“Might the authority of those who suffer bring the diverse cultural and social worlds together?” –Johann Baptist Metz
I believe this profound question about suffering, from a modern German theologian, succinctly and precisely expresses the religious breakthrough that Christ has offered humanity. It is also foundational to understanding the unique Franciscan view of the world. True gospel authority, the authority to heal and renew things and people, is not finally found in a hierarchical office, a theological argument, a perfect law, or a rational explanation. The Crucified revealed to the world that the real power that changes people and the world is an inner authority that comes from people who have lost, let go, and are re-found on a new level. Twelve-step programs have come to the same conclusion in our time.
Both Francis and Clare had this kind of inner authority that is still part of their essential message for the world. They let go of all fear of suffering; all need for power, prestige and possessions; any need for their small self to be important; and came to know something essential–who they really were in God and thus who they really were. Their house was then built on “bedrock,” as Jesus says .
Such an ability to really change and heal people is often the fruit of suffering, and various forms of poverty, since the false self does not surrender without a fight to its death. If suffering is “whenever we are not in control” (which is my definition), then you see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God. Then we become usable instruments, because we can share our power with God’s power (Romans 8:28).
Such a counterintuitive insight surely explains why these two medieval dropouts–Francis and Clare–tried to invite us all into their happy run downward, to that place of “poverty” where all humanity finally dwells anyway. They voluntarily leapt into the very fire from which most of us are trying to escape, with total trust that Jesus’ way of the cross could not, and would not, be wrong. They trusted that his way was the way of solidarity and communion with the larger world, which is indeed passing away and dying. By God’s grace, they could trust the eventual passing of all things, and where it was passing to. They did not wait for liberation later–after death–but grasped it here and now.
Abba Abraham told of a man of Scetis who was a scribe and did not eat bread. A brother came to beg him to copy a book. The old man whose spirit was engaged in contemplation, wrote, omitting some phrases and with no punctuation. The brother, taking the book and wishing to punctuate it, noticed that words were missing. So he said to the old man, ‘Abba, there are some phrases missing.’ The old man said to him, ‘Go, and practice first that which is written, then come back and I will write the rest.’
—–Sayings of the Desert
I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?
—–1 Corinthians 3:2-3
In my office there are many books, some I have read, and some I have not read. Within my collection are books that I have not read since my seminary days. Somehow I am comforted by the clutter of words that surround me and forget that a book is no good unless it is read. The Abba and Paul hit this subject head on.
If we do not use what we have, how can more be of any use to us? Most of us, like the Corinthians and the brother of the story are crying out for fullness and never use what we already possess. We have to begin our spiritual journey by applying the knowledge we possess to our pilgrimage .As we are nourished by the milk we have been given, we then push forth to a higher plain of knowledge. Our spiritual passage begins with the life messages that God has given to us and our application of them. Far too many times we get well ahead of ourselves and begin drowning in an overload of spiritual information with the false illusion that more is better. Only later we discover that we have wasted precious time for blessing by coveting more that we can apply.
Lord help me to absorb with diligence and humility all that you have revealed to me. May I spend my days trying to grow into the Christian that you created. This day I give to you what I know and understand, and I will wait with patience for what is to come. Amen
The genius of a composer is found in the notes of his music; but analyzing the notes will not reveal his genius. The poet’s greatness is contained in his words; yet the study of his words will not disclose his inspiration. God reveals himself in creation; but scrutinize creation as minutely as you wish, you will not find God, any more than you will find the soul through careful examination of your body.
——-Anthony de Mello
Where do you find meaning? Where do you find God?Think about it.
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
1 Corinthians 15:51-51
Abba Mark asked Abba Arsenius ‘Is it good to have nothing extra in the cell? I know a brother who had some vegetables and he has pulled them up.’ Abba Arsenius replied, ‘Undoubtedly that is good but it must be done according to a man’s capacity. For if he does not have the strength for such a practice he will soon plant others.’
——Sayings of the Desert Fathers
I suppose the toughest part of the Christian journey is to discover my capacity. I want answers, handles, methods to live my life as a devoted follower of Christ. The wisdom of the desert tells me that there is no one answer, but our loving God accommodates my “capacity”. What does that mean? It seems to ring the tone of situational ethics but no, it is really scriptural. First Corinthians 10: 13 tells us that we will not be given more than we can bear. In our “one right answer society” we expect everyone to be of the same belief, actions and journey but that is not reality. God gives each person a capacity of faith that we offer to him and He, in turn, gives a faith journey that we can accomplish.