(Friends, I wrote this for the January newsletter for the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis, of which I am a professed member. It makes reference to our Rule of Life, but I think it may have something to offer others as well.)
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Well dear friends, if we have ever wondered why the Lord has called us to the penitential way of life, I think 2020 has given us plenty of rationale, enough to make us grateful for the grace to answer the call. (I, for one, could not have given my fiat outside of abundant grace.) The beginning of a new year steeped with uncertainty might be a good time to examine our response to that call in light of the Scripture passages on which St. Francis based the Rules of Life for his orders.
1. The Conditions of Discipleship
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:24,25)
By God’s grace, through the Rule, we have been trained in the discipline of dying to self, in good times and in bad. One way we can know if we are being true to this scripture verse is how often we use the words, I, me, and my. These words can be indications that we are still using our own will as guide, and may have made little progress in dying to self. As an exercise, why not try substituting Thou, Thee, and Thy for a day and see if it makes a difference. Most especially the prayer, Thy Will be done. Could be most enlightening.
In this pandemic uncertainty, dying to self cannot be optional if we expect to be a sign of hope to others in these darkening hours before the New Dawn. I have been listening to Fr. B. Thomas Celso, BDV, in his teachings on the writings of Luisa Piccarreta. Fr Celso says that a sure sign that we are still living in the human will is worry, fear, anxiety, complaining, negativity, sin, and doubt. Conversely, a sure sign we are living in the Divine Will is peace, happiness, and joy. A simple test.
2. The Mission of the Seventy-two
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.” (Luke 10:1-4)
Lambs among wolves—sounds very familiar. Did Jesus tell the lambs to pack weapons to keep them safe on the way? No! He wouldn’t even let them pack a lunch! He sent them out barefoot, hungry, and defenseless and told them not to speak to anyone on the way—not to engage with the enemy outside the camp. In a series of talks on the Six Steps of Living in the Divine Will, Fr. Celso makes this comment in reference to the Fourth Step, “The Test”: “God loves impossible situations, and he puts us in impossible situations. Then he steps back and says what are you going to do about this? And we (need to) say, ‘Jesus you’re really good at impossible situations…Jesus I trust in YOU.’ If we don’t trust him in little things, we are not going to be able to trust him in the big things.”
Dear friends, are we not faced these days with many impossible situations? Everything is a test. Jesus gave us the Church to safeguard us against error. For 2000 years the Holy Spirit has ensured that the teachings of the Magisterium are protected, in good times and in bad. This has not changed and will never change. No matter how much confusion there is in the Church, the central teachings of the Magisterium will be protected by the Holy Spirit. We can trust that Jesus is speaking through the Church.
On March 20, 1899 Jesus said to Luisa:
“The reason why the world has reduced itself to such a sad state is that it has lost subordination to leaders; and since the first leader is God against whom they have rebelled, it happened as a consequence that they have lost any subjection to and dependence on the Church, the laws and all the others who are said to be leaders. Ah! my daughter, what will happen to so many members infected by this bad example of the very ones who are said to be leaders – that is, superiors, parents, and many others? Ah! They will reach such a point that neither parents, nor brothers, nor kings, nor princes will be recognized any more. These members will be like many vipers that will poison one another. Therefore, see how necessary chastisements are in these times, and how necessary it is for death to almost destroy this sort of people, so that the few who will be left may learn at the expense of others to be humble and obedient. So, let Me do; do not want to oppose my chastising the people.”
On October 21, 1899 he told her:
“…be happy and calm, and, as I go about chastising the people you are to accompany Me with your sighs and sufferings, praying that these very chastisements may lead to the people’s conversion.”
How many years ago was that? Look at what is drawing down chastisement—rebellion against authority! Rebellion is never the will of God—it carries the stench of sulphur. Again, to quote Fr. Celso, “If we live in the Divine Will, nothing should bother us, even if we don’t understand it. In the Divine Will, everything is Fiat.” Like Mary.
God foresaw these days, just as he foresaw the days of Noah. That is why he gave us the Church and Our Lady. They are the Ark of safety for us.
There are many competing voices in the Church and in the world. The Church teaches that everything that happens is either the ordained will of God or the permissive will of God. Our faithfulness is being tested, just as Adam’s was. There is fear and panic on every side. Look for balance. Look for peace.
We need to see ourselves as little barefoot lambs surrounded by wolves. At every sign of danger, we leap into the arms of our Shepherd and say, “Jesus, you’re really good at impossible situations. I trust in YOU and the Church you founded. I don’t have to figure everything out because you know everything, and you have a glorious, victorious plan. Hold me, carry me. I will rest in safety, while you take care of everything. Fiat!”
Jesus told St. Faustina: “My daughter, let three virtues adorn you in a particular way: humility, purity of intention, and love. Do nothing beyond what I demand of you, and accept everything that My hand gives you. Strive for a life of recollection so that you can hear My voice, which is so soft that only recollected souls can hear it …(Diary, 1779).”
The Rule wisely encourages us to silence the voices around us and inside us through contemplation. Let us remain recollected and ever still, trusting in the Lord, the God of history. He is coming to renew the face of the earth, so let us wait in joyful hope, safe in his loving embrace.
3. The Rich Official
An official asked him this question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother.’”
And he replied, “All of these I have observed from my youth.” When Jesus heard this he said to him, “There is still one thing left for you if you wish to be perfect: go, sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when he heard this he became quite sad, for he was very rich.
Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 19: 18-25)
One thing I believe the Lord is trying to teach us through this pandemic is to keep to essentials—very Franciscan. Even penitents can get caught up in many things. The Lord is calling us to become littler. Are we little enough to fit in a manger? Are we humble enough to be born in a cave? If not, then we’re not there yet and it’s time to dig deeper. What we cling to is what will send us to purgatory, whether possessions, unhealthy relationships, even our own opinions. Until we become nothing, acknowledge our nothingness, and love nothing but Jesus and all people through him alone, we have yet more spiritual work to do. Yes, it’s a marathon, but we only lose if we quit.
Friends, God never patches, but always creates. He is doing a new thing. Fr. Celso often says this: “The reign of the evil one is ending. Evil is going down! This is a great time to be alive! Are you ready?” He says the prayer for our time is this one: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be RE-created! And you shall renew the face of the earth!
May God bless us all as we look forward to the coming Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Come Holy Spirit! Fiat!