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!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brown Bagged It!

Newly elected Massachusetts senator Scott Brown "bagged" it where the people are concerned. In Kennedy Land, also known as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the young state senator defeated the democratic party and the odds by handily winning the senate seat once occupied by the late Ted Kennedy. It was a resounding victory that has sent a loud and clear message to those who occupy the seat of government: "Listen up!!"

A majority of the American people have simply had it. They have had it where politicians who give lip-service to the populace during election cycles and then, once the election is over, go on their merry way and do what they please. They have had it with out of control spending with no regard to any sense of fiscal responsibility. They have had it with brazen party domination, a party who feels it can do as it wants without any accountability.

It is about time that the American people awaken to the fact that their government does not respond to the will of the people and that we don't matter at all except when votes are needed. Far too long, the American people have slumbered like Rip Van Winkle, allowing politicians to gather more and more power to themselves under the guise of "doing the people's business," despite the fact that they often work contrary to what the electorate wishes.

Those in power have evidently forgotten how a republic like ours works! They have had it all wrong for years and we, as the electorate, have blithely gone along because we have been too apathetic to care. The elected officials have forgotten that in this country, the people rule. The founding fathers crafted the structure of government to reflect this fact.

Senator-elect Brown's victory, however, should be little solace to republicans. People did not vote for Scott Brown because they had fallen in love with the Republican party or Republican philosophy! The American people are very angry at both political parties. For eight solid years, the Bush administration and Republican congress spent money like there was no tomorrow. Record deficits accumulated as the underpinnings of the American economy eroded away leading to the financial crisis we now find ourselves in.

Both parties need to clean up their act! They have to stop looking down their noses at the public who protests their irresponsible actions by clearly defining their feelings at town hall meetings across the country. They derisively call these citizens "tea baggers" and treat us like we are all a bunch of uneducated oafs. They need to understand that it is their solemn duty to represent the needs and the will of their constituents, not the special interests or their own party affiliation.

It is my sincere hope that the attempt to pass a health care bill that people clearly do not want has permanently awakened an electorate that will now demand accountability in the elected officials. We need to monitor each and every move that our elected representatives make and voice our opinions loudly and clearly when we do not agree with their direction. It is time for us to take back this country from an electorate so enamored with itself that it barely notices those for whom they are supposed to work. Write your congressmen. Let your senators know what you feel. Keep their feet to the fire because this is not their country. This is our country and, as citizens, it is our solemn duty to be involved!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pat Robertson & Haiti

In an era in which there is quick condemnation of Islam from the likes of evangelist Pat Robertson, it is ironic that this so-called "man of God" should open his mouth and proclaim the reason for the tragic Haitian earthquake as a result of a pact made many years ago between Haitians and the devil. The notion that God somehow has repaid the Haitians for this pact with a horrendous tragedy such as we are witnessing is preposterous at the very least! What is even more baffling is the fact that there are many Americans who fall in lock-step behind Robertson and believe every word he says.

God does not sit around figuring out how He can manipulate the human race. Nor does He dole out punishment in the forms of natural disasters. If that's the case, the entire world would have passed away a long time ago. Natural disasters are a part of the world He created. They happen. That's all. Nothing more. When they occur, they effect both good and bad people. They are non-discriminatory. God's actions are found in the actions of mankind in response to these disasters.

Robertson's network issued a statement "clarifying" what he said on air on Wednesday. But it clarified nothing. It is time for people of real faith to stand up to such ignorance. God is not a magician. He is not a manipulator. None of us can understand the mind and will of God completely. What we can do is follow the teachings of His Son. We must love one another. Be compassionate, kind and understanding. Where judgements are necessary, we must be loving in rendering these judgements. But to suggest that the reason for a natural disaster of this proportion is a result of some supernatural deal with the devil flies in the face of any rational understanding of God.

We must continue to reach out the the Haitian victims of this natural disaster and continue also to be the hand of God in our response. Pat Robertson and those who follow him and his twisted logic dressed up in the name of religion need our understanding as well. We need to pray for them every bit as much as we must pray for the Haitians. God is a God of love and of justice but He does not deliver His justice in the way that Robertson suggests. His justice is beyond human comprehension and is best left up to Him. We must simply seek to do His will and follow Him!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Haitian Tragedy

Late on the afternoon of January 12, 2010, an extremely powerful earthquake measured at a 7.0 on the Richter Scale, devastated the impoverished country of Haiti. This most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, has been nearly flattened by this disaster.

Haiti is half of an island shared with the Dominican Republic. A vast majority of the population lives far below the poverty line. Most are illiterate and the unemployment rate nears 80%. A vast number of the population exists on less than one dollar per day. While most of the citizens live in homes constructed mainly of concrete, a significant number lives in the slums where houses are made from any material ranging from cardboard to tin to tarps and any other material that may be available.

Every day, people from these deplorable "homes" set out for the mountains of garbage that surround the slum in search for food. They dig through heaps of garbage that come from homes and businesses in and around the capitol city of Port-Au-Prince. Often, they consider themselves lucky if they find a piece of meat that has not rotted in the tropical heat that was dumped by a local restaurant.

There is very little infrastructure as we would recognize it. Roads are often dirt, lined with ruts that make taking them to anywhere a test of endurance. While there is electrical service to home and business alike, it is by no means widespread. Most of the island nation does not even have access to something as basic as clean water. Those who have no running water (and that is a majority of the population) depend on water supplies that have been contaminated by human waste. They are nothing but fetid streams of disease and illness.

Why such natural disasters happen can be scientifically explained, but a more difficult question may actually be why God permits such devastating events to happen to such a people. Most of us believe in a God of compassion and mercy. He is the Creator, God of power and might. So why did He allow such a thing to happen? Why did He allow such misery and death to descend upon a people already beset with a grinding way of life that challenges the soul daily just to survive?

God's reasoning is beyond our human understanding. We cannot fathom the mind of God no matter how hard we may try. We can philosophize all we want, but we will never be able to understand fully the ways of God. Even when we say that God does nothing without love in mind, we still find it hard to understand His ways. But there is one thing that I am sure of and that is that the hand of God is clearly visible in this horrific disaster.

The love of God is not seen in the death and destruction but rather in the world's response to the human needs of the population. Nations are mobilizing their resources into action. The United States, once again leading the way to aid a nation struck with a natural disaster, is rushing to get aid to the island through both governmental and private efforts. Charities all over the country have leaped into action, collecting materials and money to aid the rescue effort on the Caribbean island. Thousands of volunteers will soon arrive on the shores of the stricken country to provide essential services such as medical, food, and water. Countless stories of individuals extending a compassionate heart to the victims of this vicious disaster will go untold in the media but not unnoticed by God.

There are those, of course, who will say that this relief effort is just a symbol of the goodness of the human heart and is not proof of the existence of God or His actions. They are blinded to the truth. All that is good flows from God. There is nothing on earth that is good that did not have its origin in the God the Creator. He is in the loving hands that bandage the wounds of those who were hurt in the quake. He is in the heart of those who listen as half-crazed family members recall the temblor. He is in the sweat of those who dig brick by brick through the rubble of buildings crumpled by the powerful force of nature. And he is in the generosity of those who give some of their earthly treasure to help those whose lives are now completely devastated.

There are many ways that we, as individuals, can help. The American Red Cross is accepting monetary donations. Numerous church organizations have begun to collect blankets and other basic, essential materials to send to the country. Whatever way you choose, please pause for a moment during your busy schedule and remember the victims of this horrible event in your prayers. Prayer is really the most powerful weapon we have at our disposal. Without prayer, nothing else has meaning.

While we will never be able to understand why this has happened to such a stricken people, we certainly can become the face, the hands, and the heart of God to all those who have been hurt in any way by the quake. Remember, "whatever you do to the least of these, my brothers, you do unto me." (Matthew 25:40)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Who Is Your Leper?

We live in a society frightened to death of confronting the difficult and painful aspects of life. For example, rather than dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, we have sanctioned abortion as a way of dealing with that unpleasantry. As far as health is concerned, we somehow seem to think that there is some magic formula out there just waiting to be discovered that will enable us to live in this life forever. One week a food or beverage that is supposed to be healthy turns out to be nearly toxic. The next week? It is the miracle drug that will cure all ills and see us safely into the distant future.

So what does all this have to do with leprosy? Plenty! One word describes it all, fear.

Over eight centuries ago, a young man from an obscure Italian town in central Italy was riding his horse on a country road. He was the son of a wealthy merchant who could have anything and everything should he choose. He yearned to be a great knight one day, seeking glory and valor along the way. He seemed fearless and was very popular. But he had one great fear, lepers.

In those days, leprosy, a disease that is viral in nature and eats away at the flesh, was feared more than anything else and the unfortunate victims of this horrible ailment were treated as outcasts. Their rotting flesh emitted a foul odor. They were mostly dressed in rags and had to go about with a device that warned people that they were in the vicinity. They were banned from cities, often living outside the municipality gates, begging from door-to-door for their daily food.

In the noon day sun, the young man was lost in his own dream world as his horse trudged along the road. Suddenly, he was shaken from his slumber by a sound that was all too familiar to him, the clap-clap of the leper's warning device. He panicked. He could bear almost anything but a leper. They repulsed him so much that he nearly gagged at the thought of his encountering one of them.

He quickly opened his eyes and spied a lone figure on the road ahead moving in his direction. The clapper sounded once again as was required by law. The young man had nowhere to go for this stretch of the road was flanked on either side by deep ravines. Realizing that he had no choice but to meet the leper on the road, the young man nervously dismounted his horse, approached the leper, and instead of rushing him off the side of the road, embraced him and kissed him on the lips. It took great courage to do this since the smell of rotting flesh must have been overwhelming.

In this one gesture, this young man boldly and lovingly faced his leper. The stunned leper looked into the young man's face, stepped aside and continued on his way. The young rider remounted his horse and continued on his way, shocked at his own behavior. He drew the horse to a stop and turned around to gaze at the leper one more time while contemplating the nature of his action. To his amazement, the leper had disappeared. There was no sign of him.

The young horseman in this story was Francesco Bernadone, more familiarly known as St. Francis of Assisi. After much prayer and deep thought, Francis came to the conclusion that the leper was none other than Jesus Himself.

This story has a message for each one of us. It prompts us to think about our own lives. It leads to the following question. Who is your leper? What is your leper? In other words, what, in your life, do you fear the most and how do you approach this fear?

Francis determined to set aside his repulsion and not only approach his leper, but embrace him with a kiss. This was a death-defying act for Francis for leprosy was a deadly disease in the thirteenth century. From this moment on, Francis developed a deep abiding love for lepers, often working with them in their filthy surroundings. He may have even contracted the disease himself before his death in 1226. Through his kiss of the leper, Francis found a new, intimate way to Christ. Through this act he discovered that Christ can be found in anyone.

So, who (or what) is your leper? Who repels you and for what reason? What situations repulse you? And what do you do about your repulsion? Do you have the faith to truly reach out to your leper and embrace him or her? We live in fear rather than confidence. We do not have confidence because we do not have faith deep enough. We can only gain this courage if we face our lepers and embrace them with the confidence that we will find Jesus in the moment! It may take work that lasts many months or even years to come to grips with embracing our leper, but in order to live in peace, we must live toward this end.