The spirituality of Saint Francis is not so much about the heroic deed as it is about the heroic love with which even the smallest deed is done. That is very clear from the quintessential story of Perfect Joy.
Recently, when I turned my calendar over to November, I became painfully aware that the holiday season isn't far away. Where did the time go? Suddenly I will be rushing to cook, shop, and complete the million other tasks that seem to have become standard for a successful holiday.
A good story has a wonderful way of touching our hearts. From childhood on, we love to hear them. Over the years, I have told stories in my books and lectures. Often, they were my stories—those of my family or a personal experience that touched my heart.
Meditation has been a trusted resource throughout cultures and centuries for those who long to quiet their minds and hearts. When we turn the volume down around us, Clifford Hennings, OFM, says, we can open ourselves to hearing the voice of God.
We know that God is a pure and infinite spirit. But Scripture also attributes human characteristics to him. In his wisdom, God wanted to be real for his children. He wanted to be someone we could hold on to. In God’s own words to us, he has described himself in physical images. For example, Jesus described the Father like a “hen who gathers her chicks safely under her wing” (Lk 13:34). It seems significant, too, that there are 122 references to the hands of God.
An incisive verse by Sufi poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī translates: “Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.” This wisdom is not easy to embrace. It demands a lifetime of wakefulness practice. Like travelers on a crowded station platform or milling around a bustling terminal, we are pressed to be ever on the move, as though we were only passengers simply passing through. So, we pass our days looking for the next while we overlook the now. And so much wonder and woundedness pass us by or fail to penetrate. How much do we lose each time we try to grab at many things while failing to grasp what is essential?
In the 1957-58 school year, I was in the fifth grade at St. Joseph School in Howell, Michigan. Each Lent the Holy Childhood Association had a program to collect money to support a newly baptized Catholic child in some missionary country. I could be wrong on this, but I think the cost was $5.00. In our classroom, boys and girls competed to see which group could raise more money. The US/mission country divide was very clear.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “Doubting Thomas.” The phrase’s origins hearken back to John’s Gospel, where, after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus’s disciples say to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord,” to which Thomas responds, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
We are in Ordinary Time—and will be until Ash Wednesday. One of the purposes of this present liturgical season is to give us time and space to reflect on what we have just celebrated at Christmas; namely, that our God became flesh and lived among us. That is a mystery of our faith: God the Son, God from all eternity, became a human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth born of the Virgin Mary.
As an adult, I realize now, looking back, that no one ever asked me, “If you were to live today, how would you savor this gift you’ve been given?” “If you were to live today, how would you embrace this sacrament of the present moment?”