October 4, 2021
My Dear Brother Francis,
You are quoted as saying, “Let us begin, brothers, to serve God. Let us begin and let us make progress, because up to now we have made too little progress.” This little phrase has been running through my mind, my heart, and even my soul over the past few weeks. You said these words near your death challenging your brothers. Now some eight centuries later I sit with them, listening to your wisdom, and they challenge me.
Let us begin to serve God. Yes, let us here and now in this time and place. Francis, this is hard to do in this time and place. Our world is so topsy-turvy as of late and I’m not sure if I have the right words or actions in my serving God. I know that I must continually come to see God in my sisters, my brothers, and in all of creation, but it must be more than simply seeing, it must involve action. I feel my words are weak and my actions inadequate. How do I serve God? I ask myself this question because your words to your brothers, “we have made too little progress,” is a truth I ponder.
Our sister Mother Earth is calling out in pain, and I don’t know how to respond. I want to make good steps to help be part of her healing. I desire to again simplify my living to seek the beauty she offers me each day as means of connecting with God. I feel if I can honor her, I will indeed see glimpses of the divine and in turn serve God. My progress here has been too slow. I heed your wisdom in seeing creation as our sisters and brothers. How did you do it? How did you see their divine nature beyond their temporal substance? I’m no scientist, and I know you were not, so this must mean wonder and awe was your navigator. Francis, my brother, tell me again about the wonder and awe you lived with so that I can bravely begin again to serve God by living in tune with creation.
The church is at a crossroads, and it seems that the word progress makes its members squirm with uncertainty and frustration. We the people of God called to be the body of Christ seem to be getting stuck in unnecessary details where we choose division over unity. I sometimes feel trapped like I’m walking a tightrope in how to respond. I desire to be an advocate for those who feel separated and alienated from the beauty of this community. My heart breaks for those who have been left out in the cold or hurt by the church. I think that we will only move forward if we acknowledge each other’s pain by listening to each other, so as to strengthen the bonds of humanity. Francis, my brother, tell me again about the ways you challenged the church with your simplicity and your desire for people to encounter the love of God so that I can bravely begin again to serve God as a herald of hope in the church.
Then there are the many relationships we live in and encounter. Like with you what began as a small band of brothers grew, the relationships changed and were tested, I too find this in my relationships. It seems that over the past few months I have had to evaluate my relationships, reviewing how I am in them and what they need or mean. I am reminded that in some ways I must begin again with each encounter for we are constantly growing, changing, and seeking. Francis, my brother, tell me again about the ways you were present for your brothers and for those beyond the circle of your brothers, how you were present for the lepers and the poor so that I can bravely begin again to serve God in the relationships of my daily living.
Finally, dear brother Francis, I ponder this vocation that I continue to journey in and grow in. The ever-changing world around me is making me more attentive to the authenticity that my vocation demands. To be present for people, reminding them of God’s deep love and mercy. To listen well to how God is speaking to my heart. To listen well to how God is speaking in the heart of others. To continually address the false power that I try to hold so that I can freely be who I am before God. This is the authenticity my vows demand. Being a religious brother in these difficult times can sometimes feel like I’m out of touch; in those moments I can hear your voice whispering, “it is time to begin again.” Francis, my brother, tell me again about beginning again and making progress, for I think I’m starting to understand that this has more to do more with my heart than anything else. It is time for me to bravely begin again, I choose to do so knowing I have you as a companion walking with me in the footsteps of Christ.
Peace, my brother. May peace and goodness bless us all. Happy Feast!
(Image credit: Apoteosis del glorioso Patriarca San Francisco de Asís, by José Benlliure y Gil)