Obedience is deadly

I’ve been thinking, what can I say or write in preparation for the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4th) that would speak to others and would come from my heart rather than san franciscomy head.  Then it occurred to me to share the Lord has taught us through St. Francis.  Every teaching has been a blessing.

I have to say that the most visible blessing that God has given to the world is the Franciscan family.  I don’t think that anyone really knows how many sons and daughters St. Francis has. If I were to compare Francis to a biblical personality, it would be Abraham, the father of many.   I think the first quality of St. Francis that I respond to is fatherhood.

This is interesting, because Francis always identified himself as our little brother.  But this little brother has commanded the attention of millions of men and women around the world, not all of them Catholic.  He has certainly had the obedience of thousands of men and women during the last 800 years.  What makes Francis such a special man and a father figure is not that he was authoritarian or controlling.  What makes him a special figure and a father is that he was respectable.  Francis is credible.  Credible people are respectable.  He set out to live his life according to the Gospel.  To everyone who came to him, he offered the Gospel.  He did not impose himself on anyone.  On the contrary, he was the father who guided his sons and daughters into the future.

Parents normally point to careers, education, potential spouses, hobbies, social activities and many other things that they believe will enhance the lives of their children.  Francis is no different.  He points to Christ and his Blessed Mother.  He points to the Church.  He points to prayer, penance, poverty, family, service  and to the Cross.

I have often thought that Francis is like the man who has an elderly parent who may no longer be physically attractive, but he knows his parent and he knows the beauty inside.  This man makes sure that his children are exposed to this grandparent, who has warts and wrinkles, is old and appears to walk a little out of step with the rest of the world.  He exemplifies filial love and love that goes beyond the faults, to the heart of the other.

This is Francis relationship with the Church and his sons and daughters.  In some respects, the Church can be WP_20140819_001that grandparent that is no longer physically attractive and at times can be cranky.  Just like Grandma’, she is beautiful inside and has much wisdom to pass on to us, if we open ourselves to receive it.  Francis loves the Church, warts and all.  He takes his sons and daughters into the heart of the Church, through example more than words.  He teaches us to look beyond the surface and see the glory of the Church.

I can’t speak about Francis without speaking about family.  As I said above, Francis identifies himself as everyone’s little brother.  He was right to do so.  You see, in a large family the youngest is usually singled out.  Sometimes his older siblings will bully him and at other times they will spoil him.  This certainly was the relationship that Francis had with the first generation of brothers.

Everything was not sugar and roses as some people want to make it appear.  There were
brothers who worshipped the ground upon which Francis walkedRAUL & TASHA.  There were also brothers who fought his vision of the Gospel Life tooth and nail, to the point of being mean.  But like all good little brothers, Francis loved them just the same.  Little brothers can often become the most forgiving persons.  Francis was the brother who always forgave.

Even when his brothers were wrong, Francis maintained the clarity of mind necessary to separate between the person and the deed.  I wouldn’t say that he hated the sin and loved the sinner.  Francis went beyond this.  He did not judge anyone to be a sinner.  It would be contrary to his way of thinking to look at someone and say that he or she is a sinner whom I must love, even when he has committed a sin that I must hate.  What we see in Francis’ writings and his actions is honesty.  He recognized sinful deeds and he pointed them out when necessary.

His admonitions are full of sinful deeds that he notices among his brothers and sisters.  poor man walking in integrityThat’s why he wrote the admonitions.  Why admonish those who need no admonishing?  However, when one reads through the admonitions, his letters, his rules and his testament, he does not refer to a single person as a sinner, other than himself.  He leaves that to God.  In other words, St. Francis is a person who can teach us what belongs to God, what belongs to the Church, to the superior and to the individual.  He does not cross those boundaries.

Today, we have too many people who want to make the world right by dictating to others, including correcting the Church.  There is such a thing as fraternal correction, which Francis used quite often.  But let’s look at his style.  Look at the admonitions.  He speaks about faults that are to be avoided and how they are to be rectified if they are committed.  He is a brother, not a policeman.  He didn’t even police his own brothers.

A brother corrects while being very careful not to cross the line and assume authority that he does not have.  A brother who is faithful to the Gospel corrects without making a judgment about the state of the other person’s soul.

I want to draw attention to an aspect of him that is rarely addressed, obedience.  Francis’ poverty is well known.  But very little is said about Francis’ obedience and what he taught the brothers concerning obedience.

Francis knew that Christ is the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  He knew JohnBaptist-athat John the Baptist is the voice who points out the Lamb of God.  Each of these men had a
mission assigned to him by the Father.  In both cases, the mission ended up terribly, if we measure it by human standards.  Both were executed.

As tragic, as cruel and as unjust as both of these executions were, they could not be any other way, because to change the conclusion would be to thwart God’s plan for our redemption.   Our loss of paradise is the product of disobedience.  Recovery can only happen through obedience.  Obedience goes beyond compliance.  Obedience is charity.  Obedience is poverty.  Obedience is the greatest expression of union between the soul of man and the mind of God.

Therefore, Francis demanded that his sons and daughters obey.  Above all, we are to obey God.  We know when God speaks to us, because the Church confirms it for us.  We can’t jump a rung on the hierarchical ladder.  We seek to know the will of God in order to fulfill it.  It is the Church who tells us if we’re on the right track.  We can’t simply say that the will of God is X and the entire college of bishops is wrong and I’m right.  It doesn’t work that way and Francis knew it.  He reminds us in his Testament that the rule was of divine inspiration, not human influence.  He quickly adds that he knows this because the Lord Pope confirmed it for him.

Obedience can be deadly.  John lost his head.  Jesus was crucified.  We already mentioned Fr. Miguel Pro, SJ Martyrthis.  Francis reminds us that we cannot be obedient without dying.  This death is not symbolic, metaphoric or allegory.  It’s very real.  We die to ourselves and to many things
around us.

Francis taught us there is only one question that we need to ask.  “Is this a sin?”  If I’m being commanded to sin, I have a duty to disobey.  However, if I’m being commanded to do something that is not a sin, even if I believe it is not the best decision made by legitimate authority, I am bound to obey.  God is pleased by obedience more than by the thing that we do or not do.lamb of god

Jesus said “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”  (Matt 11:11)

John would obey, even though it would cost him his life.  Jesus knew that his life would take the same turn.  At some point, his obedience to the Father would cost him his life.

From a human perspective, these deaths were scandalous, because they were foolish.  There was no just reason for these men to be executed.  But from a divine perspective, these deaths were the greatest acts of love that the world has ever seen.  When one obeys the Beloved, even unto death, there is no greater love, regardless how foolish the command.  One is freely giving.  No one is taking.

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father,” (John 10:18)

Francis teaches us what he learned from Christ, “obedience, even unto death,” without murmuring and without second thoughts, obedience given, rather than compliance demanded.WP_20140825_081

Today, there is much talk about the Church and her prudential judgments.  Many excuse themselves from obedience, because the Church, the bishop, the superior or the boss is less than prudent or the command is not infallible. They’re looking in the wrong direction. Francis taught us to look out for sin.  If there is no sin, we turn our complete attention and gaze to what is asked of us and we respond with love for God and for the authority that God places over us.

Despite everything that Francis said and wrote about Lady Poverty, he begins his most important piece of writing with the words, “The Rule . . . is to observe the Holy Gospel in obedience.”

Christ is the Master and Francis is his hired teacher sent to us, through the Church, by the Holy Spirit.  He teaches us that obedience is an absolute requirement in order to be like Christ, even when obedience is deadly (in the eyes of the world).

franciscans of life

Holy Father St. Francis . . .Pray for us.

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