Discipleship During Troubled Times
By Cliff Garvey
In his Letter to the Faithful, Saint Francis of Assisi writes: “We must not be wise and prudent according to the world, but instead, we must be simple, humble, and pure. We must never desire to be above others, but instead, we must be servants and subjects to every human creature for God’s own sake. The Holy Spirit will rest upon all men and women who have done and persevered in these things; and the Holy Spirit will dwell within them. We will be children of God when we do his work. We will be spouses, siblings, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are his spouse when our souls are united by the Holy Spirit to our Lord. We are his brother when we do the will of our Father in heaven. We are his mother when we carry him in our hearts and bodies through love and a pure and sincere conscience. And we give birth to him in the world through our good works which shine ever brightly before others.”
According to Saint Francis, each of us is called and each of us is capable of being God’s agent in the world. Each of us is called and capable of being Christ’s spouse, Christ’s sibling, Christ’s parent, and Christ’s true friend in our troubled world. Some of us are young. Some are old. Some of us are affluent. Some are struggling to make ends meet. Some of us are called to speak up. Some are called to pray in silence. Some of us are celebrated for our good works. Some are anonymous or ignored or soon forgotten. But all of us are called to everyday holiness. All of us can do something to make this a better world.
Francis and Clare of Assisi lived during an era of profound ignorance, depraved politics, and barbaric violence. Human beings were not regarded by the powerful as children of God or even as fellow citizens, but as pawns on a chessboard. If you were rich, you exploited the poor. If you were poor, you suffered, surrendered, and offered it up. The sick were ignored; they were sometimes stripped of their rights, and all too often, they were left to suffer and die — at home, in a crude hospice, or even dumped along the side of the road. The Church and its pastors were too often silent in the face of the cruelty, misery, and poverty that until recently was almost imaginable to us. Somehow, though, this sounds so familiar now.
Not long ago, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post wrote a powerful column about this subject. He writes about seventy social justice activists who positioned themselves as a human cross in the United States Capitol in opposition to the treatment of refugees along our southern border. E.J. writes: “In these mean and ghastly times, we have to seek grace wherever we can find it. I found it last week in two groups, one of nuns and the other of Jewish activists, both willing to be arrested as witnesses on behalf of immigrant and refugee children being abused by our own government…It is troubling these days if you’re a Christian to see what is being said and done by many Christians in the name of their faith. After all, the founder of the tradition was rather direct in telling us how we are supposed to treat people different from ourselves, people in trouble, people who have journeyed into a new land.”
In the midst of the gathering darkness, we see glimmers of light. And E.J. Dionne finds it in the witness of two nuns in their 80’s. Sister Marge Clark says: “It is important to go beyond words, to put your body where your words are, where your beliefs are.” And Sister Ann Scholz says: “The gospel compels us to act.” Indeed! In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us what to do: “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me (Matthew 25:35-36).” And the saints show us how to do it. They bring Jesus into the world by living the gospel, by being persecuted for the gospel, and by being ready to die for the gospel.
In the opening pages of Michael D. O’Brien’s novel, Father Elijah, an abbot says to one of his monks: “If I have taught you to carry the cross and die on it, then I have taught you everything.” Have we learned this most basic truth? Are you ready? Am I ready? Are we ready? During these ‘mean and ghastly times’, what is my good to do? What is yours to do? What is ours to do, together?
Will we make peace among our families and friends or stand back and say it’s not our problem? Will we take a stand against bigotry and hatred? Will we stand with Pope Francis? Will we support universal health care, compassion for migrants and refugees, and solidarity with the poor, the hungry, and the unemployed? Will we stand with the Church in its reverence for every human life from the moment of conception until natural death — including the lives of the poor, the convicted, and the uninsured? Will we stand in opposition to dishonesty, injustice, and persecution in the public square? Will we carry Jesus in our hearts, in our minds, and in our words? Will we become children, spouses, siblings, and parents of Jesus? Will we give birth to him, in this suffering world, during these terrible times, through our kind words and good deeds? Are we willing to carry the cross and die on it? May God help us! May God strengthen us!
We end where we began — by turning again to Saint Francis for advice, counsel, and prayer. He says: “We must not be wise and prudent according to the world, but instead, we must be simple, humble, and pure. We must never desire to be above others, but instead, we must be servants and subjects to every human creature for God’s own sake. The Holy Spirit will rest upon all men and women who have done and persevered in these things; and the Holy Spirit will dwell within them. We will be children of God when we do his work. We will be spouses, siblings, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are his spouse when our souls are united by the Holy Spirit to our Lord. We are his brother when we do the will of our Father in heaven. We are his mother when we carry him in our hearts and bodies through love and a pure and sincere conscience. And we give birth to him in the world through our good works which shine ever brightly before others.”
Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us! Our Lady of Angels, pray for us!
About the Author & Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a spiritual director, retreat leader, writer, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation.
Thank you for listening to the Assisi Project Podcast: Servants & Subjects: Discipleship During Troubled Times. This audio recording is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project and our ongoing programs and ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with members, friends, and followers in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Africa. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages to more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or smile.amazon.com; or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project and our upcoming opportunities for formation, prayer, and pilgrimage, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!