Saturday, October 3, 2009


(*note: an old blog from october 4 2007. since today is the observation of the 'transitus' by franciscans around the world, i wanted to re-blog this here)

i remember being in asissi when i was young. seeing the tomb of francis and then to visit the basilica of clare and seeing her in her tomb as well.
i remember the birds outside both churches and how well fed they all were...

today we remember "il poverello"- the "poor man of asissi".
strange in a way because francesco bernardone was never poor. he was born the a fairly wealthy merchant family and was well taken care of financially, and then after he renounced everything he was given and all he had in the world, he became even richer; so in a very real way, francis never knew poverty.

i remember mother teresa saying that the poverty in the west (in america) was greater than it was in india, because here in the west the poverty is that of the spirit.
when you walk down the poorest neighbourhood or alley in calcutta, for the most part, the majority of people have some sense of hope and a source of strength to draw from, but if you walk down skid row in any part of north america, you can virtually feel the sense of abandonment and forsakenness.

francis embraced the suffering that he saw in Jesus virtually everywhere he went, in nature among animals as well as among the poorest of the poor- lepers, outcast, peasants, etc.
the confronted the sultan in palestine at a time of great hostility and violence the same way and with the same heart as he confronted the wolf at gubbio that was frightening the villagers.
he taught not only the 'enemy' (such as the wolf) to learn a way out of fear, but more importantly those who, like us, every day people who were afraid to reach out.
he taught that love is always greater and stronger than fear- whether it was the leper he embraced, the hungry wolf, or his own body which he referred to as "brother donkey/ass"- when it was literally breaking down as he lost his eyesight and other physical strength.
towards the end of his life, it has been said that he was very emotionally drained and depressed.
the man who has inspired so many countless people-himself was in great turmoil at the end of his life; yet through the darkness he never lost sight of the light, and so at the end in all humility he asked to be placed on the ground and told his brothers/friends/ followers- "dum tempus habemus, operemur bonum" -while we have time, let us do good... (because up until now, we have done little")

i cannot help but question how i've lived my own life...
at the time i made a pilgrimage to asissi, i was a very idealistic young franciscan, i had just entered the order.
today many things have changed in my life, though there have always been threads that are ever-present thanks to many touch-stones still in my life.

today, i pushed myself to get up early (no easy feat for this night-owl), and drove about an hour (more or less) to the Poor Clare Monastery of St Joseph in aptos. (interestingly enough as a side note).
i almost didn't go since i didn't get much sleep last night, but my alarm went off and as i reluctantly got up, the thought that got me to get up out of bed and go to the convent was the memory of being in asissi so many years ago, and the incredible peace and sense of home that i felt while being there.
i got to the monastery and found it from the simple directions that the nun gave me over the phone.
i walked into the monastery church, a bit late but as they were about the read the gospel, which was about francis' life (indirectly). it was about Jesus talked about where our treasure lies.
afterwards, i brought my bag of apples as a small feast day present to the sisters at the monastery.
i rang the bell and one elderly nun dressed in the traditional Poor Clare habit came and answered the door. the rest of sisters cannot be seen as they are a cloistered community, but unlike the carmelites, whom i am more accustomed to seeing, at least i got to speak face-to-face with one of the nuns there who was serving at the mass.
she was so kind and hospitable. very friendly.
we talked about franciscans and about their own community.
i talked of my own journey as a member of the franciscan family.
we talked about mother teresa's sisters as well and her community and how much they take poverty so strictly.
she also spoke of an outreach for the poor and homeless in san francisco under st boniface's community or church i think that is still very active in serving the needy in that city.

i was so happy to be there and reconnect with my franciscan family again as well as to recommit to the vision of francis- one that is never without its challenges, but has never failed to be a source of strength to countless people around the world for generations as well as in my own life.

i feel sometimes that i have felt or at least had a taste of the deep depression that francis felt towards the end of his own life after he lost his eyesight and could barely walk anymore.
this man who once wanted to be a soldier, a knight of the realm, chose a different path, yet still in so many ways kept fighting- only in a different battle.

the stigmata of francis to me is a very real one, not in the material sense, for that is irrelevant to me, but more in the spiritual and mental sense.
he truly felt and identified with the painful wounds of the crucified Jesus, but not only in his vision at La Verna in the mountains, but among his brothers and sisters, even in animals such as the wolf at gubbio, or a stray lamb he would find, in the leper outcast at the edge of the city walls, or wherever he saw suffering.
suffering was not something to be avoided or feared- even death which francis called "sister death" he clearly never feared but rather embraced, as he did "lady poverty".
to be poor, was to be free in every sense of the word. this was the path of francis, this was the way he felt Jesus called him.

when i feel that sense of empty heart, or sense of exhaustion and discouragement......i know i have not walked or entered a place that others have not known before- those like francis who knew this cold, desolation still walked out of it to see and find the warmth of the light which they themselves kept burning in their hearts always enflamed with love and compassion.

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riverside, california, United States
please feel free to offer some thoughts and leave me comments if you should feel moved to do so... these are simply my thoughts, rants and ways of reflecting on where i've been and what i've seen. factual corrections and insight from others is gratefully appreciated and always welcome; endless arguing, debates and preachy personal opinion is not. ;-) "pussy cat, pussy cat where have you been? i've been to london to visit the queen. pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there? i frightened the little mouse under her chair"