Category Archives: Francis of Assisi

The joy of love for celibates

Although I have been celibate all my life, I will have to take a solemn promise of celibacy if I am ordained to the diaconate, perhaps next June.

Although this is a bit overwhelming, it is becoming more real and more fulfilling than I could have imagined.

It does have a downside, which Fr. James Martin attributes to Father Paul, the abbot, in his recently released novel The Abbey:

His novice director told him that the biggest challenge of religious life lies in knowing that you’ll never be the most important person in anyone else’s life.

That’s humbling – and a bit fearful since I would like to be considered important in others’ lives.

But it is not so much a question as being loved as loving in response to God’s love.

Today I came across this quotation from G. K. Chesterton’s Saint Francis of Assisi, which refers to the saint’s frolicking in the snow:

A man will not roll in the snow for a stream of tendency by which all things fulfill the law of their being. He will not go without food in the name of something, not: ourselves, that makes for righteousness. He will do things like this, or pretty nearly like this, under quite a different impulse. He will do these things when he is in love.

One of the most delightful scenes in the film The Great Silence is when the Carthusian monks frolic in the snow, laughing all the time.

Celibacy should not make us dour and sad. It should give us life and laughter. For a man or a woman will not – or should not – take a vow or promise of celibacy if she or he is not in love with God.

James Keating’s The Heart of the Diaconate is particularly helpful in considering this:

Celibacy is a way of being human; not a way of avoiding our incarnate state. Anyone who chooses celibacy for reasons other than being captivated by the beauty of God and looking into that beauty as one’s chosen pleasure is setting oneself up for disappointment and sadness

It’s a question of falling in love with the beauty of God.

And though he is referring to married deacons, Keating makes it clear that our love and the love of Christ for us are central to any consideration of celibacy – or, I would say, chastity, whether married or celibate:

Celibacy only makes sense in light of one being deeply affected by the Person of Christ; so affected, in fact, that the man receives from him the fulfillment of all desire. This is why one question for all married men seeking entrance into the permanent diaconate must be: Is Christ enough for you? Do you have or are you going to develop a contemplative prayer life deep enough to satisfy your spiritual-erotic needs for self-transcendence? This is mainly a question about vulnerability before the love of God and one’s own capacity for self-knowledge.

And so I ask myself: Am I open enough, empty enough, vulnerable enough to let myself be loved by God – and make him central to my being?

That’s my question today – as I prepare for being installed as a lector at one of the confirmation Masses this weekend in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María, one step on the road to the diaconate.

May God help me love and let myself be loved.

A living Gospel

Yo quiero ser un evangelio viviente
I want to be a living Gospel

Last night in El Zapote Santa Rosa, celebrating St. Francis their patron, the first hymn they sang in their procession had this refrain – “I want to be a living Gospel.”

El Zapote St Francis

In a way that is what Saint Francis is about, being a living Gospel, incarnate in the reality where people live. The subtitle of Lawrence Cunningham’s work Saint Francis  puts it well: “Performing the Gospel Life.”

But for Francis it was not an easy incarnation since it involved following the poor Christ, the God who became poor in Jesus.

How incredible is the Christian faith. We believe in a God who became flesh, who was born poor and lived poor. He could have had anything and saved us in any way, but he became one of us, one of the poor among us.

This week I spent a night with the volunteers at Amigos de Jesús, a home and school for children near Maquelizo, Santa Bárbara. I had shared with them a reading from Padre Pedro Arrupe about the poverty of Christ, part of which can be found here.

One of the women shared with us what she had been reading from a book called The Imitation of Mary. She noted that Mary, saying yes to the Incarnation of Jesus in her body, could have asked God for anything, but she chose poverty.

That remark reflects what Francis wrote in his Letter to All the Faithful:

Though rich beyond counting, He chose poverty, as did His blessed Mother.

How can we, the privileged from the United States, be a living Gospel, be Good News to the poor?

Francis was in many ways like many of us from the north – privileged. But he chose to serve the lepers, to live as one of the marginalized, and to follow the poor Christ by living poor.

What can we do?

Saint Francis, Arturo Paoli, and Pope Francis

Today in Italy Little Brother of the Gospel Arturo Paoli died at the age of 102. He spent much of his life in Latin America, living among the poor.

Last year, he had a visit in the Vatican with Pope Francis, whom he probably knew when he was living in Buenos Aires.

His book Gather Together in My Name is a response to the concerns of Pedro, a twenty year old un-churched young man who lived with him in Venezuela. Responding to one of Pedro’s many questions, Little Brother Arturo wrote:

Well, we’ve discovered that Jesus is someone we can’t resist. The other day, Pedro, you exclaimed, “We ought to have another Saint Francis!” Well, who made Saint Francis? Don’t you think God could make another one today? Certainly today’s Saint Francis wouldn’t be the same, but there are three things necessary, urgently necessary, in the world today: poverty, identification with the people, and a deep conviction that Christ Jesus loves human beings and the world. These three things — the only things the world needs — can’t be taught in the “institutes” of Bogotá, Louvain, Rome, or Madrid. Teachers and students are just wasting their time and money. These things, Pedro, my friend, only Jesus can give you.

I can’t help but think that perhaps that is what Pope Francis is trying to teach us: how to be a poor church, how to identify with the poor, how to share with people the intense love of Jesus not only for all people but for all creation.

If we begin to live these three ideals, we may be closer to revealing in our lives glimpses of the Reign of God.


Arturo Paoli’s  Gather Together in My Name was published in 1987 by Orbis Books. Regretfully, it’s out of print.

I also wrote a blog entry on Arturo Paoli with more quotes from his book here.

There is also an article on Arturo Paoli on Sojourners’ web site here.

Kristallnacht, the Wall, and a Basilica

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1938, when the Nazis fomented a massive campaign of destruction against the German Jewish communities. One hundred and ninety one synagogues were burned and seventy five hundred shops owned by Jews were destroyed.

Today is also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The Berlin Wall, 2012

The Berlin Wall, 2012 

Today is also the feast of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s cathedral, which has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. It is an impressive building with a separate Baptistry.

St. John Lateran - facade

St. John Lateran – facade

St. John Lateran - apse

St. John Lateran – apse

But what I most recall from my February 2013 visit is the sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi and his companions facing the church, across the plaza.

St. Francis and companions facing the Lateran

St. Francis and companions facing the Lateran

According to the legend, Francis had come to the Lateran to ask the pope to approve his group of brothers. The pope had a dream that the basilica of St. John Lateran was falling down and that a poor man saved it. He later recognized that man as Francis.

Francis came in homage to the Church, both the building and the institution, but his presence was a challenge to the power and the glory of the medieval church.

Francis sought a poor church, a church of the poor, a church that followed the Poor Man of Nazareth.

Such a church will identify with the poor – not merely serve them,

Such a church will break down walls.

Such a church will protest all the Kristallnachts that oppress others.

Such a church will love and follow the Lord who accompanied His people.


Bearing the marks of the crucified

From now on, let no one trouble me;
for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
Galatians 6: 17

St. Francis on Alverna

St. Francis on Alverna

Today Franciscans throughout the world celebrate the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis. The stigmata are the wounds of Christ on his hands, feet, and side which Francis was the first to experience in his own body.

In 1224, two years before his death, in the midst of a time of deep anxiety in the soul of Francis about the future of the order that had grown up around him, Francis was in prayer and fasting on Mount Alverna.

He saw a vision of a seraph on the cross and experienced the wounds of Christ in his own body which he sought to hide.

It is very easy to dismiss the stigmata as a medieval legend meant to present Francis as “another Christ” or to exalt the stigmata to a super-miraculous manifestation of God’s special favor.

But I think it’s much simpler.

As Augustine Thompson writes in Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (p. 118):

… the stigmata were the culmination of Francis’s life since his conversion: a search for total conformity to Christ.

Francis sought to be like Christ in all things, especially in his poverty and his love for all people and all creation.

As Carlo Carretto puts it in I, Francis, Francis prayed for two graces:

Lord Jesus, two graces I ask of Thee before I die.
First, to feel in my soul and in my body, as far as possible, the sorrow which Thou, sweet Jesus, didst endure in the hour of Thy most bitter passion; second, to feel in my heart, as far as possible, that extraordinary love with which Thou, O Son of God, wast inflamed, to the point of willingly undergoing so great a Passion for us sinners.

Francis sought to be like Christ in solidarity with the suffering and love for all.

The stigmata are signs that Francis felt the pain of Christ – as Christ feels the pain of all human beings. They are also signs that Francis wanted to love as Christ did, loving even those who crucified Him.

The wounds of Christ and the stigmata of St. Francis are for me a call to deeper solidarity with the suffering and to a more embracing love for all.

Lord, open me today to solidarity and love.