My dearest brothers and sons:
I write this letter to you via our blog in an effort to communicate with you and to share with the world something about our life as Franciscans. As we sat through the readings of this past Sunday, we heard Isaiah proclaim that there would be a voice in the desert preparing the way of the Lord.
St. Luke tells us that this is John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth and that he was born to barren parents. His conception is humanly impossible. It is only possible through divine intervention. Therefore, John belongs totally to God.
What about us? Are we not called to this way of life by divine intervention just as John was called? Do we not belong totally to God? Do we live, work, pray, play and think as one who belongs totally to God or as one who still belongs to the world?
I was very sad today when I spoke about providing housing for a homeless family, even if we have to place them under the same roof with us or our loved ones and one of you immediately brought up the typical human concerns. “What if . . . ? We don’t know much about them.”
There it was, right before my eyes, the same hesitation that we see in Zechariah when the angel announces the birth of John. I was hoping to see the confidence and courage of John the Baptist who never questioned what he had to do. In the end, it cost him his life; but he was born as one who belongs to God and died the same way. Jesus called him the greatest man who ever lived.
St. Thomas More
I’m reminded of one of our great Secular Franciscans, St. Thomas More, who did not hesitate to belong to God and to live, speak and act as one who belongs to God. There is a wonderful quote in the biography of St. Thomas More in which he says that even his wife and his beloved children cannot come before God and His commandment to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. Thomas puts his money where his mouth is. When his wife and children visit the Tower of London to beg him to reconsider his position and to give in to Henry VIII’s wishes, Thomas won’t budge. His wife reminds Thomas that if he does not sign the oath, not only will he be executed, but she and their children will be left homeless and penniless. The crown will confiscate all of Thomas’ properties and assets. However, Thomas would not turn his back on God’s command to love Him above all things and neighbor as himself. As we know, Thomas was executed and his family was left homeless and penniless as a result of Thomas heroic Christian virtue. We have two lives here, John the Baptist and Thomas More, two men in different times and different circumstances with the courage to follow God and become martyrs rather than be practical as the world is practical.
At the baptism in the Jordan, John points to Christ. But he does not refer to him by name. Interestingly enough, he uses the language of sacrifice. “Behold the Lamb of God,” (Jn 1:29). In the same event, the heavens open up and the Father reveals to Israel that the Covenant has been fulfilled and that a new covenant is about to begin. “This is my beloved Son” (Mt 3:17). The same message is repeated at the Transfiguration. “This is my beloved Son . . . listen to Him,” (Mt. 17:5). We are told that Jesus of Nazareth, who up to now had appeared to be the son of an anonymous carpenter from an anonymous town, for Nazareth is only mentioned once in the Old Testament, is actually the Son of God who is to be sacrificed like a lamb being led to its slaughter.
So I put to you this simple question, Brothers. Are you willing to be more courageous in order to belong totally to God? I do not mean foolish. I mean foolish as our Holy Father Francis spoke of himself, as a fool for Christ. You were created to belong to God. This was not your choice. It was God’s choice. However, the only way that we can belong to God is to follow the lamb that will be slaughtered. John the Baptist knew this. Thomas More knew this. Francis of Assisi knew this. All of them were willing to live and die for God before anything and anyone else.
You may be thinking that perhaps that Franciscan vocation is not for you, because it is a demanding one. In truth, the Franciscan vocation is probably the easiest way of life in Catholic tradition. The Franciscan vocation is to be a good Catholic. How does the rule begin? “The rule of the brothers of penance is to live the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ?” Isn’t that the vocation of every baptized person? Isn’t that what we heard in the Gospel on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus? The divine vocation is to be a son of the Father. The first-born Son of the Father gave his life, even though it meant leaving his widowed mother alone and in poverty in this world. A Catholic must be willing to be a sacrificial lamb, if God asks it of us.
Let our walking be our preaching.
I was equally concerned when I heard a postulant ask a novice what kind of reaction he received from people who saw the novice in the habit. This kind of question concerns me, because the habit is not just a uniform. It’s a flag that announces to all that Christ is present. The brother in the habit does the exact same thing that John did at the Jordan. John called attention to himself in order to divert it to Christ.
Our concern should not be what others think or how they react to the habit. Our concern should be whether our actions and our words divert people’s attention from us to God. When you walk into a store in a habit, do you behave and speak in a manner that says, “I belong to God and so do you?” Or do you try to make yourself as anonymous as possible? A Christian who does not call attention to Christ is a poor Christian. This rule is not just for Franciscans. Christianity is not meant to be lived in the shadows. At the same time, the Christian should not absorb the attention. He must divert it to Christ at every possible opportunity by how he deals with others and by the way that he lives trusting that he belongs to God, as did John the Baptist and the rest of the martyrs.
My brothers, never forget that God has called you to this life so that you may give witness to the world that we belong to God. Witness often needs martyrs.
Be joyful, courageous, and never forget that God does not keep a record of our achievements, only of our fidelity. Be faithful and take baby steps.
Br. Jay, FFV