Monday, January 25, 2010

God's Fool

With so many inflated egos dominating the headlines these days, I thought I would take a few moments and share with you some insight I have had regarding becoming God's fool. Those of you who have ever read some of the things I have posted on this site probably know by know that I have a devotion to St. Francis of Assisi. This great saint's life was one of extreme contrasts. The son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi, Italy, Francis was like most youth, filled with energy and self-importance. Because he did have wealth, he attracted many other young people who were drawn not so much to him but his father's rather large financial holdings. He dreamed of becoming a knight, seeking fame and glory through battle. But this was not meant to be for during his first foray into war, he was knocked unconscious and thrown into a dark, dank dungeon with many others. For the next year, he suffered innumerable privations that made him contemplate his own life. This year was the beginning of his life-long conversion.

Instinctively, Francis knew that there was much more to life than chasing after riches and fame. This pursuit made for a hollow life. During that year of imprisonment, he began to realize that the only thing that mattered in life had very little to do with this world. He began to grapple with the idea that the center of life should be God and not man, specifically the enormously inflated ego of man.

Released from prison after a year, he returned to his home exhausted and very ill. Bed-ridden for months, he had more time to himself to examine his life. Once he was able to be up and around, he would often roam the hillsides surrounding Assisi absorbing the beauty and peace of the breath-taking vistas. Still, his soul was restless. He wanted more from life, but the allure of worldly acclaim still beckoned. Once again, upon regaining his health, he set off for the glory that he thought war afforded. This time, however, he never made it to battle.

One night en route to the inevitable battle, he had a dream that shook him to his very core. He rose early the next morning, packed up his things and returned home, much to his family's great disgrace. But Francis somehow knew that there was much more in store for him than any glory earned in battle could ever bring.

As the days and weeks passed, he turned his heart more and more to God, seeking to discover his will and the way to follow it. And, then, one day while in prayer before a crucifix in an abandoned, run-down church, it came to him. He was to build up the Kingdom of God on earth by becoming the humblest follower of Jesus Christ that he could be. From this point on, Francis rejected his father's wealth as well as his desire for human accolades and acclaim. He literally returned all he had to his father and went into the world clad only in a tattered robe, proclaiming a life of poverty and simplicity that led to God. In short, he became God's fool.

People laughed at him and mocked him at first, but because of his deep sincerity in what he was doing, he began to attract followers, men who desired to live the life he had begun to live. All took up the life of poverty as proclaimed in the gospels. As time went on, more and more were attracted to his new lifestyle. Today, that movement is still alive and is known as the Franciscans.

This thumbnail sketch of the life of St. Francis is only a starting point in coming to understanding St. Francis. More importantly, it is a starting point to understand what it means for us to truly become God's fool.

St. Paul addressed this subject in his first letter to the Corinthians. He wrote: "Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their craftiness,' and again, 'the Lord knows the thoughts of the wise are futile.' So let no one boast of men." (1Cor 3:18-21)

Why become God's fool, someone at whom the world is likely to laugh at for his strange ways at approaching life? Because, in becoming God's fool, I grow closer to the Creator through humility and faith. As I shed the notions of this world for the certainty of God, I begin to realize that I am not the center of the universe and that, in order to obtain peace, I must make God as the center of my existence. I must realize that any endeavor in the world that I may undertake, no matter how noble, cannot compare with the nobility of God who gave His only begotten Son for the life of the world.

What does this mean for us? For me, it means that I must lose the idea that somehow I have come to an understanding of the way of the world and now bask in that knowledge. It means that when I look into the eyes of the marginalized of society, the poor, the homeless, the elderly, I come to truly see the eyes of Christ looking back at me. I must come to a further understanding that the ways of this world are ridiculous before God. His ways are not the ways of man. His ways are not in the escapism we see practiced in so many forms such as drug and alcohol addiction to the belittling of those with whom we have disagreements about the issues of the day. It means accepting one another, faults and all, and embracing those faults as a part of the person uniquely created by God. It means adopting the way of Christ who never ceased praying to His Father for wisdom and guidance. It means dying to my own will and rising to the will of God no matter how difficult it may be. It also means uniting my sufferings with those of Christ on the Cross and giving that suffering to God for the sake of the well-being of others.

There are countless other ways, I am sure, of becoming God's fool. Just as Francis found his way, so, too, must we find our own unique ways. Shortly before his death, Francis instructed some of his brothers, "The Lord has shown me what mine was to do. May he teach you what is yours."

If you would like to share you ways of becoming God's fool, feel free to leave a comment. Perhaps in some small way we can learn from one another and begin to convert our small corner of the world to make God the center of life!