In our previous article on Hurricane Matthew, we closed discussing the attitude of anxiety that can contaminate others during such events, and we mentioned that our Holy Father St. Francis taught us instead to always go through the world filled with the Lord’s peace and joy.
In this article we wish to share a bit more alongside some practical “hints” on how to achieve and maintain inner peace during difficult times.
On his deathbed, afflicted by physical suffering and by the struggles of the newborn Franciscan family, St. Francis was able to compose his beautiful Canticle, of which we quote only some strophes:
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures…
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather …
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water…
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire…
Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation…
Blessed are those who endure in peace…
Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death…
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy willl…
This is the commitment that the brothers take upon themselves when they profess to follow the life of St. Francis, when they commit to become mirrors of perfection.
Such was the inspiration that our Father gave us, that he would inspire other great saints to imitate this model. St. Teresa of Avila would write: “Let nothing disturb you”. St. Ignatius of Loyola would speak of “holy indifference” as “not preferring health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to humiliation, long life to a short one[; instead] wish only for those conditions that will aid our pursuit of the goal for which we have been created”.(Spiritual Exercises) There are many other examples, but ultimately, they all refer back to the ultimate source of Peace and Joy, the good Lord who once said: “Do not worry about your lives…do not worry about tomorrow!” (Mt 6:25,34).
Furthermore, as Franciscans of Life, we bear the additional commitment of witnessing to the power and majesty of Life, eternal and all-powerful. “I have come that you may have life, and have it fully” (Jn 10:10). Church Father St. Irenaeus once commented:
“The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation already brings life to all living beings on the earth, how much more will the manifestation of the Father by the Word bring life to those who see God.”
In a practical way, we know that “nobody has seen the Father except the one He sent” and that “he who has seen the Son has seen the Father”, as our Lord reminds us of this and St Francis wishes us to imitate this. Therefore the Franciscan of Life, when seeking to proclaim the Gospel of Life, looks at the person of our Lord within his earthly life, particularly at times when He was surrounded by great agitation and nervousness. How did He act? What did He say?
Thus walking unhurriedly amidst a hurried crowd, being polite at a tired stored employee, smiling at an upset customer, helping a frustrated stranger who is looking for batteries, all of these take a different meaning as they proclaim the Light that shines in the darkness.
A friend of our community mentioned to us during a recent conversation that she felt “ashamed” as she, too, was guilty of having rushed through several stores and having been glued before the TV screen following the alert updates. We do not wish you to misunderstand us… as we said, we too went through the necessary preparations, as prudence is a great virtue. There are, however, certain elements that everyone – even those who have not been through years of formation in Franciscan spirituality – can apply in their daily life to find more of that interior silence that helps us maintain the quiet through the storm.
For example, we avoid following the secular news – including weather updates. The Superior, a man who has mastered interior silence, is tasked with following the development of the event – whatever the event may be – and sharing what he considers necessary for the brothers to know.
To build on a metaphor by Thomas Merton, it seems that the media in this day and age has sadly become a sort of “digital acupuncture” designed to stimulate every possible nerve in the human body, to keep us “on the edge”. “Fortunately”, though, our first-world stores come to the rescue with every sort of product that will reinforce our sense of safety by reinforcing our sense of “having” – even when we purchase those items on credit cards and therefore we are increasing our degree of “not having” (that is, if we assume for the sake of the argument that money is something one can “have”, that is, if we assume that money “is” something).
To make things worse, the media – even those with the best intentions – often miss the elephants in the room. Mother Teresa, recently canonized to the great joy of us all and of so many around the world, reminds us that we need not look far in order to find our neighbor in need. Even before we look at Haiti and the Caribbean, we ought to ask ourselves what we can do to help the homeless men and women on the streets of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and many other cities of Miami-Dade and Broward who may not even know that there is a deadly hurricane coming their way. Some of them may not have the means to reach a shelter, others may lack an ID that will allow them access into a shelter. Could we find it in our heart to welcome them into our homes for the length of the emergency?
To turn off the “excitement” of the media and to turn from “self” towards the “other” – here are two very useful ways to maintain inner silence, peace, and joy.
The last suggestion I would like to make comes from the spiritual director of St. Teresa of the Andes, a young Carmelite mystic to whom the Lord revealed that she would die within the month. Upon mentioning this to her spiritual director and asking how to go about the remainder of the month, she was told: “Live as usual, as if you were not going to die“. For, in the words of St. Francis, “blessed are those whom the Lord will find doing His holy will“. Then even dreadful, ugly, scary Death becomes no longer our enemy, but our sister.