It has been a very busy couple of weeks for me. My Secular Franciscan fraternity and friars of my parish were planning and preparing our celebration of the Transitus of St. Francis. It was the most solemn celebration I can recall in recent memory. As part of our service, we had six characters who encountered Francis speak about their relationship. I went first, speaking in the person of St. Clare–the first woman to follow his simple way and whose community is the Poor Clare nuns. I feel that I really bonded with her last year–even taking a book with me to Rome last October that I’d begun and couldn’t put down. Her encounter with Francis was life changing to her and I have a feeling she approached things one day at a time. When she first heard his preaching in the piazza near her home, I don’t think she could have imagined how it would all play out in the end. I don’t know that she saw her days lived out in a cloister. Francis’ way of life — for a woman — was unheard of in that day. At the end, Francis told his brothers that “I have done what was mine to do. Now you do what is yours to do.” Clare went the way that was hers to go–cloistered at San Damiano–the church most special to Francis as it is the first church he repaired — where the Cross spoke to him.
Then, there is Lady “Brother” Jacoba, a widow who lived Francis’ way of life of the Secular Order. Besides the Blessed Mother Mary and is own mother, Lady Pica — Clare and Brother Jacoba are probably the two most important women of his poor little way. Brother Jacoba delivered the items needed for burial — a new habit, candles, incense, and her own special almond cookies that Francis loved. Brother Jacoba is recorded to be there when he died — Clare was not. Poor Clare. But, Clare did see him one last time as the brothers brought his body by San Damiano. Surely there are facts and there are legends — but it is written there, as we read our character accounts at our Transitus — St. Clare and Lady “Brother” Jaboba. We venerated a first class relic and shared bread — bread that I gave away since I just found out I am wheat intolerant. We had a wonderful reception following the Transitus. I went home to begin again early on Sunday, October 4th……
I feel that I came full circle in my faith life — the Feast of St. Francis on Sunday, October 4th coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Baptist church where I grew up. I began the morning at 9:00Am Mass and stayed through the 10:45Am Mass homily — I wanted to hear both on the Feast of St. Francis. Being a Franciscan parish, we had permission to celebrate the Feast at all the Sunday Masses. After that, I did what I had not done in ten years — I headed up to the Baptist church to join in the anniversary celebration. I saw people I had not seen in over ten years.
One of my old youth group members is now a pastor. He delivered a sermon that asked, “Jesus paid a great price on the cross for our salvation — when Jesus bought you, did he get a lemon?” He went on to describe the ways in which professed Christians become “lemons” — wanting it all for no effort of their own. I’ll remember that little analogy for a long time. Lemons want great church programs but do not want to participate when they are provided. Lemons want a beautiful sanctuary but do not tithe. Lemons think the homeless should be fed but do not want to ladle the soup. All the lemons expect to be in heaven one day.
The day was nearly over before one person — only one person the whole afternoon — sidled up next to me and whispered, “I hear you are Catholic?” Yes. ” What is it about the Catholic Church?” I had mere nanoseconds to respond that it is the celebration of Mass — Jesus is not just a symbol. I told him that a Catholic friend had helped me with some questions and suggested I go to a Mass. It was the one Mass I attended and knew I wanted that Communion. Jesus is not just a symbol — and — we do predate the Protestant Reformation. That is as good as my nanoseconds allowed for a semi-thoughtful response.
So, at the end of the day, I’d heard two homilies and two and a half sermons and avoided wheat at the buffet lunch. I saw three eras of youth ministers, my prom date, and a couple other crushes from my teens. I’ve kind of lived my life one day at a time. I never would have expected to be where I am today. I live more on the interior than the exterior. God has illumined my path one step at a time. I have been to amazing places and seen great things — especially in the last ten years. At the end of the day, I was very happy with my life.
I began this year writing about Mary and how Secular Franciscans should “express their ardent love for the Virgin Mary” (The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, 9) My fraternity received a precious gift this year — the gift of a beautiful — and large — statue of Mary. We brought her to our Fall retreat at the Monastery in Conyers. We brought her to our fraternity meeting yesterday. We decided that she will go home with a different person every month along with a prayer journal — kind of like the Elijah Cup for priestly vocations. I got her this month and set her up in my bedroom. I wonder if she will talk to me like she talked to St. Therese of Lisieux?