the wisdom of Francesco

“Some preachers will keep silence about the truth, and others will trample it
under foot and deny it.
Sanctity of life will be held in derision even by those who outwardly profess it,
for in those days JESUS CHRIST WILL SEND THEM NOT A TRUE PASTOR,
BUT A DESTROYER.”

Saint Francis to his followers upon his deathbed


(art work by Julie Cook / 2011)

I was offered a link yesterday to a rather obscure little book…
Works of the Seraphic Father St. Francis Of Assisi
which was published in London in 1882 by R. Washbourne

Long out of print, digital copies are the best way if one actually wants
to read the book.

The book is basically a collection of the writings and words offered by
Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226).
It is a collection of wisdom that was more or less written and spoken to those of
Francis’ order, the Franciscans, as well as to the sisters of The Poor Clares–
an order of likeminded women founded by Francis’ longtime friend Clare of Assisi.
They were more or less the female version of the Franciscans.

Toward the end of the book, there is a recounting of when Francis was on his deathbed.
Francis had called the Brother Minors
(those men who followed Francis and the Franciscan Order) to his side.

Francis had lived long enough to actually witness the splintering of his
own order as it spiraled out and away from the original intent of which Francis
had envisioned when he founded the order…

And so he spoke to his brothers with a Divine sense of what we today would call
speaking with a spirit of prophecy…
he was foretelling a time of great crisis in the Chruch.

During Francis’ lifetime, the Chruch was the Catholic Chruch,
but today, when I hear the word Chruch, I actually consider that to be the entire
the Chruch of the collective Christian community, the bride of Christ, the universal Chruch.

I also believe Francis’ words transcend that of both space and time as they
speak deeply to us today…

Those who preserve in their fervor and adhere to virtue with love and zeal for the truth,
will suffer injuries and, persecutions as rebels and schismatics;
for their persecutors, urged on by the evil spirits,
will say they are rendering a great service to God by destroying such pestilent men
from the face of the earth.

But the Lord will be the refuge of the afflicted,
and will save all who trust in Him.

And in order to be like their Head,[Christ] these, the elect,
will act with confidence, and by their death will purchase for themselves eternal life;
choosing to obey God rather than man, they will fear nothing,
and they will prefer to perish rather than consent to falsehood and perfidy.

Seeking shelter

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter
of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal
likewise with their fellow men.

Francis of Assisi


(spicebrush butterfly seeking a safe perch / Julie Cook / 2017)

I was leaning over, pulling up a few weeds out of the freshly strewn pine straw bed,
when I caught a bit of movement on a freshly trimmed bush.

A butterfly sat with fluttering wings wide open…not in the sun, but rather in the shadows.
It’s still a bit chilly in the mornings and early evenings here…however those first
hardy souls of the butterfly world are beginning to make their seasonal appearance.

I know that butterflies must sun themselves, warming up their muscles.
If the temps dip into the 40’s, butterflies can’t even move let alone fly.

I watched this wee one flitter from the shelter and shade of the shrubbery,
heading happily outward into the sun, only to lite upon the bay laurel tree.

The butterfly struggled on the slick laurel leaves to get traction.
Vainly attempting to climb up the leaves, in order to reach a sunnier spot in which to bask
in the beauty of the day, the butterfly kept slipping back down to the underside of the leaf,
while all the little fragile black legs worked furiously…
as my little friend scrambled to gain a foothold upward.

Yesterday we had tornados.
20 touched down throughout the state with one of those touchdowns being in my county.
It was nothing like our neighbors to the west in Louisiana,
but destructive none the less.

Property was damaged, cars crushed, college housing lost windows,
and even one of the local fire stations had it’s roof lifted of and taken away…
while a side wall then gave way….

Thankfully no one was hurt and no lives lost.

Today is a far cry from yesterday…
Today is one of those Chamber of Commerce type of days.
Warm, brilliant blue sky, white puffy clouds—
a true welcome mat coaxing one and all to venture out of doors.
Tomorrow however is to be like yesterday…
storm ridden and supposedly worse then we saw Monday.

Such is life in the Spring in the South…
beautifully inviting one minute, then hell on earth the next…
Sending both man and beast seeking shelter….

So for today as the butterfly and I currently enjoy wandering about a bit outside,
free from the confines of indoors or shelter…
I do so with knowledge that we both will most likely be seeking a safe haven
at some point tomorrow…

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91

altars

“Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the Creator
as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You.
Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us.
Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.”

Augustine of Hippo

dscn0509
(altar tomb in the Rock of Cashel, the Cathedral of St Patrick / Co Tipperary, Ireland/
Julie Cook / 2015)

A thick blanket of smoke hangs heavy in the air.
It’s not the result of burning effigies or burning communities
but rather from the woods of North Carolina and northern Georgia which are on fire…
and the winds have shifted…

The sinking grey smoke is a somber reminder that there is a dangerously severe drought…
and the parched land is now beyond thirsty…

Yet there is more to this current drought than simply a lack of rain…
for there is more that is dry than mere vegetation and brush…
And there is more to this endless thirst than a need for water….

Vehemence and anger are filling the air, accented by vile and profane sentiment.
As the mobs march toward the altars of self indulgence and guile.
Immaturity laced with ignorance stokes the fires of rage as the hate filled
smoke fills the nostrils of a nation.

Self absorption and egocentric worshipers have taken to the streets.
They have taken to their computers and to their phones…their current altars of choice.
All the while they shout vile rhetoric as they stomp their spoiled bored feet.

If you must…
Protest against atrocities,
demonstrate against hunger,
fight against killing…
but not because you’ve simply forgotten, or have never known, how to lose.

Young dismayed parents now publicly lament how are they to console their
confused children who cry in fear from the big bad what ifs of hysteria…
simply because democracy has been at work–once again…

Nay, answer with truth…
the truth that one person lost while another person won…
For that is how this game is played…one person wins while one person loses…

Yet ours is a culture currently obsessed with the win win…
because we’ve grown moralistically soft while deciding everyone should be a winner…
We cannot live with the sad notion of losing…
Never mind old adages of always trying again…

There are those who are falling at the altar of womanly feminism…
which is currently shored up by gender neutrality, resentment and anger.
Marching not for policy or real equality but rather for the notion that
the wrong sex was the victor…as the votes which were cast are ignored….

Tears are being shed not because freedom has been lost
or because lives have been lost,
nor because a nation has lost all hope…
No…
rather tears are flowing because an election was lost…

And now we no longer want to play…
Because reality is simply no longer considered fun.
While we have found ourselves kneeling before all the wrong altars…

Ours are the empty altars of hero worship and of self…
the altars of gadgetry, boredom, appeasement and ignorance.
Altars of fear, anger, hostility, emptiness and divisiveness…

For what or whom has become our idol, our god?
Who or what are those hungry deities which have left us empty, sad,
frustrated, angry and resentful…
as we turn upon one another in the feeding frenzy of resentment?

We have gathered before all the wrong altars for far too long…
These altars have left us shallow and empty while also full of loathing and contempt…
We continue to march without leadership and direction…
lost and wandering…all the while lashing out at those we assume to be our enemy…
never realizing that we are all actually one.
One people…one nation…

And all the while hidden deep within the suffocating smoke of our thirst
lies the only One true proven path in which we need march…

Yet we have decided it’s far easier to wander angrily in the parched darkness
while hiding behind the vitriol sputum which oozes forth from our mouths…
spewing out upon our fellow human beings…

As it seems we’d rather choose…
paranoia to Grace
greed to Offering
ignorane to Enlightenment
darkness to Light
death to Salvation
egregiousness to Gentleness
hate to Love…

May we all fall at the foot of the one true altar,
the cross of Resurrection, Salvation, Hope and Life.

The Father willed that his blessed and glorious Son,
whom he gave to us and who was born for us,
should through his own blood offer himself as a sacrificial victim on the altar of the cross.
This was to be done not for himself through whom all things were made,
but for our sins.

Francis of Assisi

the saint, the sultan and a first in meetings…

DSCN0358
( modern grave markers within the ancient cemetery located within the grounds of St Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

In 1219 a humble and simple Italian Franciscan monk ventured across raging seas and hostile lands with the hope of eventually crossing enemy lines in order to meet one of the most feared men of his time, Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt… who also happened to be the nephew of the greatly feared Muslim warrior Saladin.

This was the height of the 5th Crusade. The Holy Roman Empire was embroiled, once agin with Muslim forces, as Jerusalem and what is known to Christianity as the Holy Lands, was under Muslim rule. Pope Innocent III and his successor Pope Honorius III, along with King Andrew II of Hungary and the Grand Duke Leopold VI of Austria launched a Holy Crusade to rid Christianity’s holiest city and her lands of Muslim rule once and for all. The irony here however is that Sultan Malik al-Kamil was actually one of the more tolerant Muslim rulers and allowed Christians living in and traveling to and from Jerusalem safe passage as well as greater freedoms than had previous rulers. Gone were the days of persecution and vast bloodshed. Yet the Catholic Church and most of Europe held the belief that the only good Jerusalem was a free Jerusalem.

Francesco Bernardone, affectionately known to us today as St Francis of Assisi, according to historical record longed to travel to the land of the Saracens not only to witness to the Muslims in the name of Christ but to broker peace. There is much debate over this encounter—had Francis simply wished to die a martyr in his hope to convert the Sultan as some historical documents record or had he hoped to intervene a peaceful solution putting an end to the ages of hostility, violence and bloodshed which had existed between these two religions for hundreds of years…scholars continue to debate these varying schools of thought.

The one fact however greatly agreed upon is that the meeting was one of mutual respect and peace.
Both men departed company with a lasting impression of mutual admiration and an understanding that each honored God…albeit in his own way.

As the world sits and watches the daily violence and mayhem unfolding within the very same region of the encounter of Francis and the Sultan…in Northern Arica and the Middle East, there appears to be an endless rolling wave of violence and bloodshed that seems to have been relentless since the dawn of mankind…as those deadly ripples reverberate ever outward into a gravely unaware world.

And it is during these global dark days in which my thoughts often turn to the teachings of that humble monk from Assisi.
I wonder how St Francis would view the current crisis with the current global assault by ISIS…
As this rising new unbending rule within Islam seems to lack the wisdom and tolerance of the long ago Sultan.

There is a historic meeting which is soon to take place.
It is a meeting between the two leading men who sit on the ancient thrones of their collective branches of Christianity.
Pope Francis, the Sovereign of Vatican City and the Bishop of Rome, the leader of the western Latin Roman Catholic Church, who is the 266th pope to sit on the throne of St Peter, will meet with his Orthodox counterpart, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leading patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This meeting is a first between these two branches of the same tree. Previous popes have attempted to meet with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy but the rift between these two “sister” churches is deep.
All of which indeed goes back to the Great Schism of 1054 when Christianity was divided between the Latin West and the Eastern Orthodox.

However with the Russian Orthodox the wariness seems to go even further as the Mother Church of Russia looks at the Latin Church as one who has long hoped to lure away the Russian faithful while the Catholic Church has long wondered how “close” the Russian Orthodox Church has been first with the ruling Tsar’s and then later with the Communist regime…with current continuing questions regarding the relationship and roll between it and Vladimir Putin’s government.

Yet it is with grave mutual concern over the rampant rise in global Christian persecution, especially in the region of Northern Africa and the Middle East, that these two holy men will put aside all differences in order to come together in a greatly historic and unprecedented union in hopes of creating a unified front, while the world watches and wonders how many more must die at the hands of barbarism before someone stands up and says enough is enough.

As the time of this historic meeting fast approaches, may our collective Christian families join together in united prayer for these two men as they prepare to meet later this month in Cuba.
May the Holy Spirit make His presence known and felt as these two men of deep Christian faith, who speak as representatives on the global stage for all of Christianity as well as humanity itself…may they find the necessary common ground within their shared faith, their love of Jesus Christ…may their two voices join as one as they speak for those who cannot speak.
May the world stop long enough to hear these two men’s collective wisdom which is steeped in the wisdom of the One True Spirit of God.
And may all Christians join together in support as we stand together as the Light shining in this every darkening world….

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35500973

Do the impossible

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
St. Francis of Assisi
CIMG0526

This photograph is an image of one of the beautiful Umbrian valleys surrounding the peaceful hill town of Assisi. The view of this sweeping valley is one that Francesco Bernardone, later known simply as St. Francis, gazed upon most assuredly, often. There is indeed a serenity to this area of Italy, as it issues, beckoning and inviting, a whisper that seductively yet warmly calls out to anyone who is restless of spirit.

I imagine that a young Francesco often retreated to these hills, forlorn and heavy of heart, as he wrestled within himself….the young troubadour and dandy whose days and nights were idly filled with shallow friends and raucous wanton carousing…and yet, all the while inwardly, Francesco was so very heavy with conflicting emotions. A crisis of self. A crossroads with soon to be explosive results.

What better place to contemplate ones life.

The air heavy with the scent of jasmine, the wind gently stirring the grasses covering the endless hillsides as the sun radiantly sparkles in a deep Giotto blue sky. I imagine our young Francesco laying on his back nestled in the swaying grass, arms folded behind his head, gazing skyward wondering why he was so unhappy. Fretful, unsettled, burdened.

When God calls, there is no stopping what then follows… we can never go back and we can never be the same. We may run as hard and as fast as we can in the opposite direction. We run out of fear and even out of anger. We fight the call by denying His very existence–we go to the brink of the abyss, but He will stand fast…waiting.

The conflict within will come to a crashing crescendo. The chaos colliding with the Divine. The old self must die giving way to a new birth of a new self. That is the miracle. Not so much the great and grand works we then are to accomplish but rather that we are transformed and reborn–that we are changed forever.

Saul had his road to Damascus. He was a mercenary answering really to no one but himself. He was paid to uncover and route out the new rebellious lot of the followers of the crucified man from Nazareth. Much like a modern day hit man or assassin. He went about his paid commission with steely and unemotional precision. The job paid well and he actually sadistically enjoyed it.

Sometimes our hearts are so cold and blind that our eyes must be blinded in order to get our attention. Extreme living often requires extreme turn abouts. It matters not how hard we may live, how bad, how destructive we wish to be, when the call comes, as it most likely will, we will be purged.

Are you restless of spirit, are you troubled…or are you seemingly living the perfect life, happy and supposedly content, yet there is just something unsettled deep within? Perhaps you must seek the solitude of self in order to determine the cause of the wrinkles of heart. Is God calling, beckoning…is there greatness in you that even you yourself deny?

We all have our time contemplating our existence, our roads to Damascus—the question remains… how long will we travel and contemplate before we finally recognize the One who is calling? How long will it take until we are ready to do the job we are called to do by the One who knows that we are the only one who can do this one particular chore….

We may run, but we cannot hide….When He calls, there will be no turning back…..Why is it then that you are still running so very fast so very far away…..He will stand fast, He will wait—you are needed to do the impossible.

deep ponderings

“I have so much to do! And there’s so little time!”
– John Gunther, Death Be Not Proud
DSCN0358
(image of a grave marker in the historic Colonial Park Cemetery/ Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2013)

I don’t know if it was yesterday’s post about the poor dead mole, the fact that I just finished reading Priestblock 25487 A Memoir of Dachau by and about Father Jean Bernard or that I’m currently reading “Forget Not Love” The Passion of Maximilian Kolbe by Andre Frossard…or it could simply be that Fall of the year is upon us which ushers in a time of life silently fading away…no matter the reason I’ve just had the this whole idea of death and dying on the brain.

No, as my students would say, I’m not trying to be a “debbie downer” nor am I trying to sound the death knell—rather I am simply wishing that I was a braver soul. Not that I consider myself a chicken or the one who runs from danger. My former principal who is former military, use to tell us, his instructional coordinators and leadership team of the school, to run toward the noise or fire, not away from it. Meaning if we saw or heard something not so good, hightail it to the source, pronto!

I’d be the first one on the scene, never afraid to break up a fight or quell the first signs of trouble. Not the wisest thing to do given the troubling times in which we live, but I’ve never been one to back down in the face of danger.

I am however, I think, afraid to die, or maybe it’s more that I’m afraid of dying….I don’t know if it’s the process or the final act—I’m not quite certain. And well there, I’ve said it. But wait a minute you say, aren’t you some big time Christian? Yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I embrace death and dying by any means.

I’m not a fan of pain, I don’t think I bear up under it very well and I’m afraid of the unknown. This coming form Miss plot out her entire life form A to Z with a detailed course description as a guide. Maybe it’s the control thing—Miss Control freak who will have no control or say in the whole ordeal. I admit it scares me.

The story goes that St Francis, upon his deathbed, is said to have sung over and over “Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death.” He sang Psalm 141, and at the end he asked for permission from his superior to have his clothes removed so when the last hour came he could expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.

Now that’s someone who doesn’t flinch and get’s it right.

Or maybe like Joan of Arc who was sentenced to be burned at a stake by the English as a heretic. As she was tied to the stake and the fire lit, Joan asked the priests present if they would hold up a crucifix in order that she may gaze upon Christ as she died.

Hard Core

Maximilian Kolbe, as a prisoner of Auschwitz, sacrificed himself for another prisoner who was sentenced to die in a starvation chamber. He lived much longer than they ever imagined he would and he ministered the entire time to his fellow death-mates being the last of the group to die.

Angelic

I know that none of us know how we will react when our time comes, be it quickly or slowly due to a ravaging illness, but it just troubles me a bit that I fret about it. Maybe I’m afraid that when it happens God will say, No, turn around you just didn’t get it right. Maybe He won’t want me. Maybe that’s that whole abandonment issue established with the whole adoption business..see how that keeps coming back?!
I want to be with my family–what will that be like? Oh there are just so many questions and caveats that are simply not up to me….

I want to be more brave, more serene, more confident. I want to know without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus, or St Michael, or whomever will take me by the hand….We all recall the final weeks of Pope John Paul’s life. The once most energetic, athletic, globe trotting vicar of Christ who slowly, painfully, frustrated as he was, serenely allowed all of us to witness his relinquishment on and to this world.

I feel as if I’d be belly aching, oh woe is meing, grousing in frustration, anguishing….but not so for so many brave souls. But who knows, maybe I’ll surprise myself. Maybe I’ll be like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life who got a second chance to get it right. But I doubt that……

Maybe that’s it—maybe it’s as simple as learning to let go…letting go of self, of the control, of relinquishing my power and yielding to a Greater power. Less of me and more of Him.

And then there is the issue of sin… those things that impede our relationship with God. I once heard it described that God, the Creator, who is without sin cannot even look upon sin as He is that pure (which goes well beyond our mere attempts of comprehension)…so Jesus had the bridge the gap, so to speak, between sin and that which is without sin—all so God could reestablish a relationship with us. That is indeed very powerful.

Sometimes I think that I’m just not ready because I’ve got to continue working on getting it right…but when will that be…when will I finally know that I get it right? Maybe I just need to take heed of the expression ….”I ain’t got time for dying cause I’ve got a whole lot of living left to do…” or however that saying goes— it is all just a matter of how we live that is most important, and that is what I must remember-it is how I live, not merely that I live….

Mother Teresa so aptly taught us all how to live by her own simple yet determined example of living life for Jesus and in turn for others— it is this small Albanian woman who teaches us that living with purpose for our fellow man is what truly matters. She taught us the simple truth of life and she offered us a wonderful creed to call our own……
“Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.”

No, no time for dying—just living, and living well…..