I'd like to share with you this month a musing
from my book, Lights: Revelations of God's Goodness.
A few summers ago, I was visiting the Franciscan
Church of St. Peter in the Chicago Loop. The popular church stands
on West Madison Street in the middle of the financial district and
is dwarfed by surrounding skyscrapers. Thousands of people visit
the church each weekbusinesspeople with briefcases, street people,
shoppers, tourists and passersby.
As I rambled around the inside of the church, something made me
stop at the large statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at one of
the side aisles. There I was astonished to see, lying at the foot
of the statue, a dozen fresh red roses. They were not arranged in
a vase. Someone apparently had just come in off the street and laid
them at the foot of the statue!
Who placed this lovely bouquet there? I wondered. A businessman?
A streetwalker overcome with love for Christ? A rich widow? A lover
with a broken heart whose intended companion had stood him up? A
poor person who scraped up $40 to lay this extravagant
token of love before the Savior? Whoever left it there, I decided,
was a person with a temperament like St. Francis'.
The dozen roses became, for me, a symbol of the seraphic ideal
of seeking God with affection and emotion, not just intellectually.
For Francis and his followers, the goal of religion is not so much
to comprehend the God who is Truth as to fall in love with the God
who is Goodness. If and when Franciscans go to heaven, they want
more than the beatific vision of the God who represents eternal
truth. They seek, even more, the beatific embrace of the God who
is goodness and love!
For St. Francis, the following of Christ is not seen as a burden
on one's back but a song in one's heart. The saint always seemed
to hear the music of God's love in his heartand he responded with
joy and affection and even a bit of flamboyant romance.
At times, according to Francis' biographer Thomas
of Celano, Francis would be walking along and suddenly get carried
away by the thought of God's goodness. The saint would pick up two
sticks from the ground, tuck one under his chin like a violin and
move the other over it like a bow. Then he would sing in French
songs of love and praise to God. "This whole ecstasy of joy,"
Celano writes, "would often end in tears and his song of gladness
would be dissolved in compassion for the passion of Christ"
(A Second Life of St. Francis, #127).
Francis wanted music and song even when he was dying. He asked
his brother friars to praise God with him by singing the Canticle
of the Creatures which he had composed while he was ill and going
blind. He used to say, moreover, that he wanted his friars to go
about the world like minstrels to "inspire the hearts of people
and stir them to spiritual joy."
Some followers of Francis are still trying to
do this today. In the early 1990's in Cincinnati, I attended a farewell
ceremony for one of our Franciscan friars, Silas Oleksinski, O.F.M.,
who at age 68 had volunteered to serve in the former Soviet Union
where, after the fall of Communism, new mission possibilities were
opening up. I was moved by the courage and great faith of this friar,
who, at an age when most people are settling into a life of retirement,
was risking separation from loved ones and facing fears of the unknown.
In the true spirit of Franciscan exuberance, Silas did an amazing
thing near the close of the ceremony, as the choir began singing
"How Great Thou Art." It was one of those crazy, creative
Franciscan moments that observers of the Order have almost come
to expect. The friar walked up to the microphone and began whistling
with the choirwith a loud and clear, marvelously warbling whistleall
the way to the last note! Many could not hold back tears because
of this bold gesture of love and joyful faith. It was an almost
literal compliance with Francis' wish that his followers go through
the world like minstrels.
Silas had certainly stirred my soul to spiritual joy!
Here's a prayer I would like to share with all of my Friar Jack's
we praise you and thank you
for your overflowing goodness.
Help us always to hear
the melody of your great love for us.
Give our hearts joy
that we may respond to your love
with singing and great affection.
And may we always come to you
with a dozen red roses in our hands. Amen.
This month's musing was drawn from Friar Jack's book Lights:
Revelations of God's Goodness. This little book contains
many of Friar Jack's musings on the Franciscan themes of his spiritual
journey from the 1940's to the present. It is filled with gratitude
to God for the many "lights"the graced persons,
experiences and special insightsthat have illuminated
Friar Jack's path.