jonmsweeney

Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

Fulton Sheen–on Heaven

In Catholic imagination on February 25, 2009 at 8:25 pm

What do you think of this?

Fulton J. Sheen once said that in heaven we’ll have three surprises: 

1) We’ll see people there that we didn’t expect to see

2)  We won’t see people there that we did expect to see, and

3)  We’ll be surprised to see ourselves there!

St. Francis of Assisi, Pray for Me

In Catholic imagination, Francis of Assisi on February 24, 2009 at 12:23 pm

On this, the 800th anniversary of the day that you turned your life completely to Jesus, pray for me, that I might have the courage and grace today to do the same, at least in my own, small, ways.

“O Holy Christ, our shepherd, we bleat before you.

“O Holy Ghost, our inspiration, we dance before you.

“O Holy One, even our foolishness brings you praise.”

–A Prayer with Francis, by Jon M. Sweeney (from The St. Francis Prayer Book)

Francis Bernardone, February 24, 1209

In Francis of Assisi on February 22, 2009 at 11:56 pm

We are only two days away, now, from the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan Order by Francis of Assisi. Or, to put it better–the founding of that inspirational spirit that reformed the Church in the first half of the 13th century–for Francis of Assisi did not at first intend to found a formal order.

Paul Sabatier tells the story best in The Road to Assisi:

“One day–it was probably February 24, 1209–the festival of St. Matthias mass was being celebrated at the Portiuncula. When the priest turned toward him to read the words of Jesus, Francis felt himself overpowered with a profound agitation. He no longer saw the priest; it was Jesus, the Crucified One of San Damiano, who was speaking: ‘As you go, proclaim the good news, the kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.’ These words burst upon him like a revelation, like the answer of Heaven to his sighs and anxieities.

“‘This is what I want,’ he cried. ‘this is what I was seeking. From this day forth I shall set myself with all my strength to put it in practice.’ Immediately throwing aside his stick, his scrip, his purse, his shoes, he determined immediately to obey, observing to the letter the precepts of the apostolic life.”

Francis and Clare Learned to Meditate

In Clare of Assisi, Francis of Assisi on February 16, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Francis and Clare of Assisi spent lots of time in contemplation of Christ and meditation before God. After Francis’s conversion, and before he formed his movement in February 1209, he learned to sit quietly and pray with intensity. Later, Clare learned the same, even before she came to join the ragtag group of Franciscan men at Portiuncula.

 

I love the ways that Clare, in particular, spoke of meditation techniques in her writings. In the third letter to Agnes, for instance, Clare urged Agnes to

 

·                 Place your mind before the mirror of eternity.

·                 Place your soul in the brilliance of heaven.

·                 Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance.

·                 Transform your entire self into the image of the Godhead so that you too may feel and

taste the hidden sweetness that God has reserved for his lovers.

 

She was a down-to-earth mystic. Her power of concentration was intense, but hers was a mysticism that had feet and intelligence, in addition to heart. Clare’s always practical mystic voice often stands in contrast to those of other, medieval mystics, including St. Bonaventure and other Franciscans who came soon afterwards.

Imitating Christ rather than being a Christian

In Clare of Assisi, Francis of Assisi on February 10, 2009 at 3:32 am

Francis and Clare made clear by their lives that being a follower of Christ can sometimes get lost amid the details of being a cultural Christian. Many Christian observers in India eighty years ago thought that they saw St. Francis of Assisi in Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi never renounced his Hinduism, but he often declared himself a follower of Jesus Christ. There were times during the 1920s and 1930s when Gandhi would arrive to give a lecture and would simply quote from the New Testament, usually from the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. On one occasion he did this and said: “That is my address to you. Act upon that.” A Hindu intellectual of the 1920s said about Gandhi: “What the missionaries have not been able to do in fifty years Gandhi by his life and trial and incarceration has done, namely, he has turned the eyes of India toward the cross.”

It is ironic but true that Gandhi may have been a more faithful follower of Christ than many Christians have been. Francis and Clare return us to the essentials of following the Poor Crucified: Give to the poor; preach good news in your life and with words; worry little about tomorrow; care for creation and its creatures; always show humility; and love your neighbor to the point of sacrificing your life for him. They transformed the darkness of the Middle Ages by their lives and teachings. What the Crusades could not do, burgeoning papal power did not accomplish, and the threat or promise of hell or heaven would never do, Francis and Clare did. They transformed thousands with their way of life. To live in the spirit of Francis and Clare today is to model Christ in ways that will cause you to be dismissed as a fool, forgotten like the poor, reviled for your optimism, and yet, somehow, remain enormously attractive to the rest of the world who are seeking peace and meaning. There were not very concerned with being Christians; they were concerned with being imitators of Christ. Perhaps that is the sort of revolution we need today.

Mimicking Jesus & Spiritual Imitation

In Francis of Assisi on February 8, 2009 at 12:12 pm

A French writer once called Francis’s attention to mimicking the life of Jesus, “naïve, almost manic imitation.” The Poverello followed Christ quite literally, doing the very things that Jesus did. Another explanation, rather than manicness, is that Francis was both unaware of more complex ways of reading the Scriptures and uninterested in discovering them: “The son of a prosperous merchant who had passed his youth in irresponsible and extravagant gaiety, he was ignorant of the theological commentaries on the words that might have slurred over their challenge, and he accepted, impulsively and with joy, their literal, practical application.” (Rosalind Brooke, Early Franciscan Government).

 

For example, in his Later Rule, Francis instructed all of his brothers to not only preach in language that is well-chosen and chaste, but to always preach with brevity: “because our Lord kept his words brief while on earth.” Bringing healing comfort to lepers was an imitation of Jesus, who healed ten lepers in Luke, chapter seventeen.

 

Francis’s rebuilding of the San Damiano church was his first act of spiritual literalism. He was always one to do precisely what was asked, spending little time trying to discern more subtle meanings to what he felt God had said directly to him. “Go and rebuild my church” was what the crucifix said as he knelt before it seeking meaning for his life. And so literally, Francis rebuilt the Church by first rebuilding churches.

 

Here’s what I think: Francis would not have gained the followers that he did if he had not been literal in his commitments. It was precisely his idealism that drew people to join him. There is simple beauty and attraction in doing what needs to be done regardless of other consequences.

 

There is an art to spiritual imitation, and it isn’t only done through the physical details of life. Trying to be like the great saints that have come before us is part of Christian discipleship. Imitation of Jesus is more important than praying to him—more important, even, than holding certain beliefs about him. As Simone Weil once argued in a letter to a priest, “Christ does not save all those who say to Him: ‘Lord, Lord.’ But he saves all those who out of a pure heart give a piece of bread to a starving man, without thinking about Him the least little bit.”

Two Poem/Prayers Inspired by the Spirituality of Clare of Assisi

In Clare of Assisi, Francis of Assisi on February 3, 2009 at 3:05 pm

She was one of Francis of Assisi’s closest friends, and the first (and most courageous!) woman, to dare to join that rag-tag group of men.

Preparing for the Day

Set your heart on the concerns of your Father.

Open your mind to the truth of your Brother.

Listen for the promptings of your Spirit.

Amen.

 

 

Collect for the End of the Day

Heavenly Lord,

bless us,

who follow in the footsteps of your Son, the Christ;

bless us,

who listen to the leading of your sweet Spirit;

bless us,

who, with you, are ever-renewing the Creation.

Amen.

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