Our newsletter deadline finds me writing this on Monday of Holy Week. As we prepare to commemorate Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, I think of Francis and how important the mystery of the Passion was to him.
Before Francis received the stigmata he prayed to share as much as possible in both the love with which God loved us and the sufferings Christ suffered to redeem us. That is a very courageous prayer! I could not pray that prayer in sincerity. Even though I appreciate the fact that true love and suffering are inseparable, I’m not ready to ask to be able to love and suffer that much. I doubt I will ever be ready to pray that prayer as Francis did…if I ever am, I suspect it will be when suffering is clearly inevitable and the hope of heaven is far closer than it seems today.
I know people whose sufferings seem to be in Job’s league, and wonder how they bear it – and what God is doing. Why do some people have so much suffering and others so little? Remembering the words of St. Paul that we are not tested beyond our strength (1 Corinthians 10:13), I have to assume that I’m very weak…and I’m not praying to be strong! Fortunately, Jesus also told Paul that "my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Paul’s exchange with the Lord is reassuring to me; while Paul rejoiced in being persecuted for the sake of Christ, he also begged that his "thorn in the flesh" would be taken away. Did Francis ever pray that the stigmata be taken away? Did he ever regret the rash prayer that he prayed so sincerely that God granted him his request? I suspect that he did pray to be freed of the pain of his stigmata and his illnesses, from time to time, just as his model, Jesus, prayed that the cup might pass him by. But just as Jesus did, I’m sure Francis followed his prayer with, "Not my will, but yours, be done."
Even though I can’t imagine surrendering myself the way Francis did, the daily way of the cross required of us by the duties and responsibilities of everyday life gives plenty of opportunities for suffering with no possibility of being recognized for heroism. That fact is recognized in Article 10 of the Rule:
United themselves to the redemptive obedience of Jesus, who placed His will into the Father's hands, let them faithfully fulfill the duties proper to their various circumstances of life. Let them also follow the poor and crucified Christ, witness to Him even in difficulties and persecutions.
Our Lenten penances help us to remember that we don’t "need" everything we want. Moreover, they help us learn that we don’t always have to be right (not easy for me!), that we shouldn’t always avoid people and situations that make us uncomfortable, that we need to…change, if we are to become "perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect."
As brothers and sisters of penance, we recognize that our penance is intrinsic to our lives in the world…and as followers of Francis, we are called to rejoice that our lives give us the opportunity to follow Christ through the way of the Cross to the Resurrection. May we live in the Risen Lord today and always!