Christian resistance in the style of St. Francis

It’s indisputable that today’s signs of the times point to heartache, injustice, division and confusion. The truth seems to be debatable. The persecutions of the little ones — from immigrant children, refugees, victims of natural disasters and targets of sexual assault; those who are on the margins — often are the ones who bear the brunt of the pain.

Today, on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi in 2018, I am not going to write volumes comparing and contrasting the 1200s with the present time. But I would like to suggest that the legacy of St. Francis — and particular Franciscan values — offer a formula for Christian resistance.

Francis reacted to much of the injustices occurring around him by behaving countercultural, by responding in ways that were opposite to the status quo. I believe that we could do the same by fostering the values of joy and humility within ourselves. To do so is radical resistance,  a response to the wrongs in our time.

Joy 

photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

The headlines can be discouraging, can cause us to feel weighed down with despair.  Adults mock those who are hurting in ways worse than children on playgrounds. The poor and elderly are dying in floods, earthquakes, fires. More women are speaking the truth of how they have been abused, violated. With such facts spinning around us, it may be only natural to be down.

Yet, the Franciscan way to resist the gloom and despair is to expand the goodness, to rejoice in the sweetness of God becoming part of the mess through the Incarnation. This is not a blissful, Pollyanna happiness but a refusal to let the negativity discourage us or overcome us. It is a deep joy because God’s goodness is greater than any sorrow. This was the spirit of my community’s assembly this past June: we started A Revolution of Goodness, so that goodness could overtake the awfulness corrupting hope and joy around the world.

For us Franciscans, the perfect joy persists no matter how awful the circumstances. God’s goodness provides a zest deep within.

Here are some words from St. Francis of Assisi, regarding the meaning of true joy:

Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, “What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? And if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, “I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

Humility and Poverty 

Like Francis, we live in a society that puts the rich, famous, and accomplished on pedestals. We love to celebrate the wealth and might of the rich. The image of success that we are fed is often a scene of materialism: a nice house, car and tons of stuff. Such greed for power and wealth is dangerous to our relationships, our civility and our planet, though. What is the way to resist?

St. Francis’ response to the pressure to become wealthy was a radical renouncement of money and power. Francis literally stripped down the wealth from his cloth merchant father, becoming naked in the public square. He took on the clothes of a poor man. He taught his followers to go the margins to live with and serve the lepers. He embraced poverty and humility, wholeheartedly, insisting that brothers forming community with him to call themselves the Order of Friars Minor. This Franciscan value of is often called minoritas by those of us that are Franciscans.

In today’s world, we can resist the greed for wealth and power and instead embrace the Franciscan values of poverty and humility by becoming downwardly mobile. Instead of working to associate with the elite, we turn our attention to the little ones, the poor and marginalized. We serve and spend time with the weak ones who are often ignored, aligning our selves with them on the streets; in shelters, soup kitchens, prisons and detention centers. We become smaller and lesser in the process as we pursue the chance to serve others instead of being served.

Here are some strong words from St. Francis of Assisi challenging us to grow in humility:

Consider, O human being, in what great excellence the Lord God has placed you, for He created and formed you to the image of His beloved Son according to the body and to His likeness according to the Spirit.

And all creatures under heaven serve, know, and obey their Creator, each according to its own nature, better than you. And even the demons did not crucify Him, but you, together with them, have crucified Him and are still crucifying Him by delighting in vices and sins.

In what, then, can you boast? Even if you were so skillful and wise that you possessed all knowledge, knew how to interpret every kind of language, and to scrutinize heavenly matters with skill: you could not boast in these things. For, even though someone may have received from the Lord a special knowledge of the highest wisdom, one demon knew about heavenly matters and now knows more about those of Earth than all human beings.

In the same way, even if you were more handsome and richer than everyone else, and even if you worked miracles so that you put demons to flight: all these things are contrary to you; nothing belongs to you; you can boast in none of these things.

But we can boast in our weaknesses and in carrying each day the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Admonition V)

Photo credit: www.datinggod.org

Franciscan joy and humility are not the only ways to resist the injustices corrupting our current society; peacemaking, contemplation, and continual conversion are also good Franciscan values to influence us. It actually seems that joy and humility will naturally grow in us while we pursue peace, contemplate God’s goodness, and develop into who he is calling us to become.

Franciscanism is Gospel living, after all. And Gospel living itself is a constant turning to Christ. We follow Jesus as we promote the peace and justice that comes from him. We love our enemies. We decrease so God can increase. We spread the Truth of love.

These are radical ways to behave. We are Christian resisters in the style of St. Francis of Assisi, boldly living with joy and humility. May it be! Amen.

Pausing, breathing, reposting, replying as a member of the body of Christ

“Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  This quote, attributed to author and theologian Ian Maclaren, has been tossed around a lot. I think I first saw it memed on FacebookFacebook-logo and most recently I heard it on Krista Tippet’s On Being. It is simple and straightforward and frankly, kind enough, to come off as a bit trite. I am reticent to be found quoting phrases I’ve seen more than once pasted over the image of a sunset, or a silhouetted figure with their head in their hands. But this one, I’m going to stand behind. This one is not to be dismissed. It is, in fact, particularly handy when one is scrolling through their Facebook feed—so full of both the beautiful and ugly, in image and word—and precariously near falling victim to impulse replying. With hand hovering over the keyboard, prefrontal cortex poised, quickly conjuring up a tart reply to something that’s pressed the “angry”, “offended” or “I’ve been staring at a screen too long and just cannot” button inside, “be kind…” is a blessed mantra to retrieve and reflect with.

This is an important phrase indeed, not only when tooling around social media—that ripe field for impulsive seed to be scattered and bear sour fruit—but really when confronted with any of the issues and characters that compose our political and social climate at present. One issue I’ve been skirting around for fear of being immediately exhausted and annoyed (and saddened and discouraged and bewildered) by is the hotly-debated issue of bathroom access in public spaces. I use “debated” very generously as, especially if Facebook is your primary news source (I confess, it is mine of late), the content of what you are seeing or reading seldom has enough substance or anything like a fact traceable to a source considered actual information (let alone insight).

This is why I was so pleasantly surprised and grateful to stumble upon a Baptist minister who, when confronted with this issue, was self-aware and open enough to recognize that he had very little actual information about what it meant to be a transgender person (let alone how such persons might be effected by laws about bathroom use). Rather than leap to a reactive response based on what he might assume should be his moral stance as a conservative pastor, he paused and started to ask questions. “I don’t know much about transgender issues,” he admitted, “but I’m trying to learn.” It is in the trying to learn that this man reveals Christ to us more than any memes throwing out Scripture reference or rants about how our society is descending into chaos. And it is with Christ-like invitation that he challenges his readers with the question “How much do you really know about this subject beyond all the screaming headlines” while gently reminding us, that more than political posturing and religious rigidity, this is about “real people and real families.” Have we calmly considered who those people might be? Have we done our homework about what risks are real and what are inflated in order to manipulate an emotional reaction?

Asking questions with the intention of hearing and learning and desiring to understand is a radical, rare, brave and vulnerable act. In a prayer often (albeit incorrectly) attributed to St. Francis, the writer beseeches God that they might direct their energy toward seeking to “understand, rather than to be understood.” In doing so we are opened to the possibility of love; our being is expanded to receive others (even others who are different or confusing or who we genuinely disagree with). It’s a prayer, ultimately, to be more like Jesus, who walked among strangers, sinners and enemies and so often found in them disciples, followers and friends.

What this rant is about, more than anything, is both how we respond to difference and how we behave when confronted with information startling, offensive or frightening to us. If I intend to take in and respond to information as my best self and as a member of the body of Christ, then I find I need to pause, not only before I repost or reply but also to evaluate what is being fed me. Is there any nutrition here or is it just tantalizing candy, packaged to trigger my cravings, fears, anxieties, longings? Is it just empty calories that will leave me full but malnourished or worse; toxins that once consumed will poison my point of view and diminish my capacity to live and love well? I need to ask myself (and I invite you to do the same) “is this designed to heal or to hurt?”

hand-laptop
Image courtesy of freeimages.com

“Does this seek to unify or divide?”

“Is this truthful?”

“Is this merciful?”

Imagine Jesus or, if you prefer, imagine the kindest person you know sitting next to you. Wait to see if they smile, nod, and reach over to press “send.”

 

This Physical Faith

I am on pilgrimage now, in Italy. I arrived Monday evening and started having physical reactions right away. As I was leaving the Rome airport and looking around at the vegetation, it crossed my mind that the landscape I was seeing probably would have been familiar to St. Francis of Assisi, plus many other holy people I have studied and prayed with for years. My mind was full of wonder and my heart was vibrated with joy and excitement. At the thought of it all, tears filed my eyes. Before arriving at the hotel where I am staying, I was surprised to suddenly have this site fill the sky:

"St Peter's Dome at Night" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“St Peter’s Dome at Night” Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is something I have seen countless pictures of throughout my life. When I saw it all lit up and making such a statement about the power of faith, I gasped. Really loud. It didn’t matter that I was in a shuttle-taxi van with a bunch of strangers, it was like the sound came from the depths of me and surprised all of us. Physical reactions can be like that. Since then, I actually got to go inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s enormous and filled with great art and devotion. It’s amazing to me what people create and do because they know and love God. Thousands and thousands of people from all over the world were inside praying, taking photos, and listening to guides share facts. Some were crowding around the sculptures by Bernini and Michelangelo to try to see the masterpiece with their own eyes, and maybe get a good photo. Some were in line to touch the feet of the statue of St. Peter, which were worn down flat. Some were in the adoration chapels off to the side. Others were praying with the non-corrupt body of Pope John XXIII. At one point, overwhelmed and trying to take it all in, I realized I was crying–another physical reaction to a spiritual reality. Most recently, I was able to visit the Vatican museums, which includes the Sistine Chapel and its masterpiece paintings by Michelangelo. I got to spend over thirty minutes in there, crowded among hundreds, in dim light, bending my neck back and staring up at the phenomenal art. For part of the time I sat, prayed, and people watched. I started thinking about all the prayer and pope elections that have happened in that place over hundreds of years, and all the holy people who have also been in that place. Then, I became aware that my shoulders were shaking and tears were streaming down my face. Another physical reaction. I’ve only been here three days now yet I am clearly being moved intensely by the experience already. The actual pilgrimage program began this afternoon and at our opening mass one of the guides, Father Rick Martignetti, reminded us that we are all called to be pilgrims and strangers on our journey through life. We pray with the physical world in a very sacred way. Places are “sources” that can speak to us, that can change us and that we can change–by our being and through our prayers. Many of the places that we are to encounter are places where heaven has met Earth, for this Christian faith of ours is a very physical faith. As I move on this holy ground I learning more every day about how the spiritual and the physical intermingle. I am amazed and blessed to be part of it all. For all this, I give thanks and praise. Amen!

3 simple ways to honor St. Francis today

Happy St. Francis Day!!!

I love this guy.


Today, I invite you to do three simple and important things to honor St. Francis and his legacy that continues to inspire people, like me, to follow Jesus in messy, authentic ways.  The three actions I propose are totally Franciscan things to do.

Join my Franciscan family and me in celebrating the goodness of God and praising him for the gift of our founder!

Help us try to build the kingdom of God through our actions, ministry, simple lifestyle and prayer.

1.) Help the Poor.  There are a lot of ways you can help those less fortunate. I really, really would like you to help me with one cause that is near and dear to my heart and causing me to have a hard week.  The people who I know at Tubman House in California are in desperate need for help right now.  Unless they get enough donations quickly they’ll have to close this weekend or at the end of the month. If Tubman closes, some amazing parents and their children will go back to being homeless and the organization will be forced to stop doing all the amazing work they doRead all about the details and make a donation here.  Sign up to become a regular donor here.

2.) Protect the Environment. Just like helping the poor, there are many, many ways you can protect the environment.  I’d love it if you checked out all the awesome work that the good people at Catholic Climate Covenant are up to. And, then, I hope you’ll sign The St. Francis Pledge!

3.) Pray and Work for Peace. I had trouble coming up with a suggestion for this one– because there are so many issue specific peace organizations- -but being a nonviolent peacemaker is totally important.  Perhaps we can all pause for at least 30 quiet minutes in solitude and silence today to pray for peace in our hearts, our homes, our communities, our country and our world.

The great thing is that if we do these three simple actions we won’t just honor Francis, we’ll honor Jesus too.  That’s the great thing about saints!

Thanks for your participation and Happy St. Francis Day!

Ode to St. Francis

Father

of feasting, fasting

and fun: your ecstatic love of God still

feeds us with inspiration, devotion,

commotion, communion, so we

gather up sticks and play

violins. we kneel

in the dirt praying

praising, remembering our mother earth,

our sister water, the fox our

brother Jesus a babe, born so simple

in a barn, poor- you

understood, the challenge of following

Love beyond limits, to great

extremes: mountain tops, battle

fields where we learn from lilies how to

just trust that God shall

provide. blessed are they

blessed are you

our father

our friend

our founder

Francesco!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy St. Francis Day everyone!! 

We’re rejoicing in the goodness of God today and hope you’ll join us on this special day.  May you be blessed with an abundance of joy and communion with God.

Peace and All Good, Sister Julia

instruments of peace

At the high school where I work we begin we begin every day with prayer.

On Fridays the entire school says the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.

The words weren’t written by St. Francis. The Peace Prayer of St. Francis was written in the 1900s and became popular during World War II. The words remain bold and powerful for the wars of our time.

God bless us, and may we truly be peacemakers. Amen.