Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Saint Francis Was Not Only About Animals


     I've written a post before on organization. I've thought many times that if only I could be as organized as I would like (as I "should" be) then I would not suffer from discouragement.

     Appearances are not always what they seem. We know that. Certainly the lives of famous people and their problems are evidence enough. Yet I think many of us don't let the lesson sink in completely.

     In the last few years a couple of my friends--whom I confess I almost worship because of their beautifully behaved children and their spotless homes and knack of doing all so perfectly--have suffered with discouragement, too. I think to myself...they shouldn't! They are doing everything as I would wish to. They have lived an ideal, still married to their sweetheart from a young age, consistently parenting their children from day one, responsibly living...the list goes on.

     I have read that discouragement stems from pride. Perhaps. I get that. I feel as though I've had a lot of humble pie thrown at me in the last ten years. Truly, I know I'm lacking in a lot of ways. Bruce loves to joke with us, "I am the humblest man you will ever know!" as he raises his eyebrows and looks up at the sky. I'm certainly not implying that.

     I post beautiful things because I want to share them. I do not, however, want to give the impression that all goes smoothly each day. It doesn't. I have more positive friends who seem to rejoice in their challenges! And some who don't seem to have many challenges. I sometimes wonder why there is so much challenge!

     On the other hand, I have friends who have hit rock bottom. Unbelievable events have transpired for them. I have friends who have lived through far more difficulties and tragedies than I have. And I've read about people like Immaculee Ilibagiza in "Left To Tell" whose stories are horrifying and inspiring at the same time. I reprimand myself for my discouragement, then.

     Our lives are unique to us. Our families are unique. Our situations differ. The truth is, though, everyone at some point feels discouraged. Some momentarily, some frequently and some chronically.

     Pride aside, isn't it also from a desire to want to be a better person?  Christians believe they will never deserve the salvation they believe in which is through Christ. He loves us and paid the sacrifice for our failings even knowing us at our worst. We are worth something very special, then. Not "worms on a dung heap" as some Puritan writers may have proclaimed.  Knowing this, we want to please Him as a child wants to please his parents. We want to love creation as He loves it.

     Saint Francis was born in the Middle Ages into a prosperous family. His father was a respected merchant. Francis had a life of priviledge and excess. He ate well, he partied well, he "loved" well. He went on one of the Crusades to save the Holy Land. He returned disillusioned and sad. He saw the atrocities of war and the evil that man was capable of. We would have called it PTSD today. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He did not speak for a long, long time. During that time he prayed to and listened to God.

     He had to come to terms with his humanity, what he was guilty of, what his fellow man was guilty of. Most of us know the rest of the story. He left his home, his money, his priviledge and rebuilt the church named San Damiano. Other men followed him, his life became simple and pure and self-sacrificing. He took care of the sick and the poor. He shared God's love with them. Later, he visited the Pope for permission to continue and the Franciscan Order was started. His childhood friend Saint Clare was inspired to start a second Franciscan Order, The Poor Clares living a similar "code," or rule.

San Damiano

     I think we all need to come to terms with our failings. When offered back humbly to God as imperfect gifts, God can bless us, and many others. It seems counter-intuitive.

     We'll all struggle at times. I pray that you will not withdraw from others. Try not to avoid those who can help. It is a tendency we have and sadly, divided we are more easily conquered. Talk to a friend, a priest, a pastor, a counselor. There is more ahead. There is more to give.

Saint Clare and Saint Francis

     Our society seems to be teaching us that we are at the center of our world, that we deserve fill in the blank: wealth, happiness, anything we want. But the truth is, true joy is in giving, not getting. In acceptance and obedience. Our culture despises the latter term. But obedience to an authority we trust, that is good, is something we have taught our children through the ages.

     Saint Francis gave it all up. He lived a poor beggar's life. And he gave amazing things to the people of his time, to the suffering, to the lepers. And to us all.

     When discouraged  remind yourself that you are "a work in progress." Pray and seek help and put one foot in front of the other to keep trying. God doesn't give up on us. We are precious to Him.

Saint Francis Prayer
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

 "I have been all things unholy, if God can work through me He can work through anyone."
Saint Francis of Assisi 

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