God’s teaching tools in Assisi

It’s my last morning in Assisi. Soon I will depart and go on the next leg of my journey before returning home. I’m restless and nervous, for transitions and travel challenge me.

I came here as a pilgrim two weeks ago. I experienced this city as a pilgrim. Now I understand that I also leave as a pilgrim, for I am always on a journey of faith.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul. -1 Peter 2:11

I can trust that God will take care of me and remain my trusty companion, for sure. For me, a certain worldly desire wages against God’s invitation to be a disciple who take leaps of faith: I long for a sense of certitude about where my life is turning. I realized this here in Assisi. This is one of many lessons that I will bring home to integrate.

Indeed, God has utilized my time on this holy ground to teach me lessons that I need to learn.  Overall, my experience in Assisi has provided many graces.

To teach me these lessons, God has used many teaching tools. There’s the tools you might expect: liturgies, homilies, readings, lectures, silent prayer, meditation, religious art, tombs of saints, and churches.

God’s truth has been revealed in other ways too: through people, places, music and in random moments in caves, on mountain paths and busy streets.

In particular, God has spoken through the wisdom of other pilgrimage companions, all who are Franciscans. I’ll feature one:

David Hirt, OFM Cap.

"Br. David Hirt" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Br. David Hirt” Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Age: 36

Entered Religious Life: 2007

Solemn Vow Profession: 2013

Hometown: Terre Haute, IN

Current Ministry: Campus Minister and Spiritual Director at Mount Lawrence High School Seminary, Mt. Calvary, WI

My Question to Br. David: What have you learned about the messiness of Franciscan life during this pilgrimage? 

Br. David’s AnswerFranciscan life is like any one of the old churches here in the Spoleto Valley. It’s old and rough and broken and beautiful, but built to show that one perfect sanctuary that is the reign of God. Franciscan life is the mix of ideals and the nitty-gritty reality of what you have to deal with in the world, and the ideal and reality don’t always meet. 

Another teaching tool that God has utilized is the beauty of the scenery.  It has frequently felt as if every direction I look gives me a picture worth contemplating. Many sights feel as if they are pictures right out of a European photo book or off a postcard. And, I get to be part of it! The beauty and God’s goodness has given much to ponder, much opportunity to do as St. Clare has instructed: gaze, consider, contemplate, and imitate.

Here is a photo from my time here that I offer for your own consideration and contemplation. What of Christ does this photo invite you to imitate?

"Basilica of San Francesco, Assisi" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Basilica of San Francesco, Assisi” Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

As I journey onward, I am carrying some solid intentions and hopes about how I will integrate what God has taught me into my ordinary life.

Wisdom and beauty is propelling me into mystery blessed with trust. While I move, I pray that I shall imitate The Great Teacher and the lessons I’ve learned here in Assisi. Amen!

This land is whose land?

It’s the 4th of July. Throughout the land folks will parade around with flags and explode fireworks, all because the USA gained some independence back in 1776.  I suspect that they’ll be some good old-fashioned patriotic pride and we wouldn’t have to listen to carefully to hear someone proclaim that the USA is the best country in the world.

But, is the USA really that great?

It is  ancient and modern wisdom that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.  Jesus taught us to put the littlest first, to make the vulnerable our priority. Yet, the USA has the greatest gap between the rich and poor of any industrialized Western nation.  The rich keep getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and more people are becoming poor.  For a nation wanting to boogie down to patriotic party music, it’s not exactly good news.  We’re not really that great, after all.

As I’ve told you before, I am not a fan of patriotism. Even so, I’ll be singing a song about our country today.

This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie is one of my favorite songs.  I used to sing it as a traveling song. But the meaning and power of the song changed for me a few years ago, after I spent a year working with some of the most vulnerable in our nation: homeless and parenting youth.   At the end of my year as a Jesuit Volunteer in California I was introduced to the last verses of the song and the words sent chills down my spine.  I never learned these words when I studied the song in elementary school, probably because I would have asked the music teacher too many tough questions:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Which land? Whose land?  What’s going on? What are we doing?

Questions, questions. I have so many!

As we work for real greatness- as we work to build the Kingdom of God-  what are the questions we need to be asking?

How many people are lined up in invisible bread lines?  What is wrong with how we operate as a society that poverty is getting worse?  Why does this wealth gap grow?

What does our faith have to do with it?  What are our churches doing? Are we praying for the poor and working for justice?   Are the poor getting relief in our churches and from our faith communities?  What will it take for us all to work together so that our country is so great that we can teach other lands how to justly treat the poor?  How are we we to build the Kingdom of God?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Maybe the answers all have to do with Love.