With Franciscan Eyes

Beauty in the Eyes of Our God

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We are probably all familiar with the nineteenth century fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling.” It tells the story of a baby swan (cygnet) who was hatched along with who he thought were his siblings but who were actually ducklings, and so he was ridiculed and ostracized because they perceived him as ugly. 

If the “ugly ducking” had been hatched in his mother swan’s nest, he would have been seen as beautiful. So what changed?  Nothing! He was always beautiful. It was the perception of others that changed what he thought of himself. 

How many times do we find ourselves swayed by what others say about us or by how we think they feel about us? Or, what is even worse, when we let our inner criticizing voice say disparaging things about ourselves to ourselves, and then we believe what we hear?

What a challenge it is to look into a mirror and not see the false notion that we are ugly but rather the beauty each of us holds.

“For we are God’s handiwork,” God’s masterpiece.   (Ephesians 2:10)

 I am fearfully and wonderfully made.   (Ps 139:14)

God does not see as a mortal who sees the appearance.   The LORD looks into the heart.   (1 Samuel 16:7)

May we look into the mirror each day and see the beauty that God sees. 

Hidden Graces

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Hidden Graces

In front of my home, hidden in a lot filled with trees, is an abandoned and broken-down home. During the summer because of the thick foliage, I couldn’t see it. But now every day I see it and lately it has been a source of my reflections. Knowing the history of this area, I know that at one time it was a simple but adequate home for a family. People from Chicago came out to live here seeking refuge from the agitation and violence of the city and in hopes of more economic stability. They found both here. The Catholic Church here has an 81-year history and when I talk with the older folks who are still living here, they speak with sparkling eyes and nostalgia for the community dinners, the celebrations and fun times they had as a faith community.

For various reasons the source of income for the people changed drastically and the factories moved out looking for ways to make more money with less expenses and so the slow exodus began. Without jobs many people left and currently the area has an aging population. But they continue to be a people of great faith and enthusiasm in living this faith.

But that house. It continues to speak to me of mission. At times we are called to be in places and moments of strong connections and activities that nurture the body and soul. I have lived on mission and been on many mission trips and the relationship with people is one of the greatest joys of my life. In my youth, I would have said, “Now this is really mission!” Doing all those marvelous activities that express a new kin-dom of God. We are all kin!

Now already in my golden years, I can look at the abandoned home and thank God for what it was and what it did for the people who lived there. It tells a story, perhaps a melancholy one, but it is a story with a history. It speaks to me of respecting where I am now and where my people are in this faith community. It speaks of the desire to live the reality in which God has placed me.

As we are ending another extremely difficult year, we can see that the call is to live our mission embracing the reality of whatever we encounter in life. Even in the most abandoned moments of our lives, the mystery of God’s love accompanies us and raises us above the difficulties to look beyond with hope and determination. These thoughts continue to resonate with me; they return to my mind and heart because I am certain that in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Scripture tells us this. St. Paul lived this and Jesus is glorified in this promise.

Let us not be afraid of abandoned houses and difficult situations but instead, let us risk going deeper to seek the presence of God in all moments because there will be grace present. However, I do say with joy, Come, Lord Jesus, come Emmanuel, come soon 2022! 

Transformation is Possible

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Conversion stories always move me mainly because they give me hope. From big sinner to little stumbler, God’s mercy floods a soul, and the soul responds, sometimes with joy and sometimes with bewilderment. But often there can be some kind of movement—eventually!

Lately, I’ve been reading Wounded Shepherd by Austen Ivereigh. This is a very honest look at the pontificate of Pope Francis as it weaves the Pope’s personal life with the many decisions he has had to make to date as Pontiff. Throughout his life, Pope Francis had many “conversion” moments, and he brought these experiences to his role as Shepherd of the Church.

I am struck by how our Mandatum is reflected in this story. No doubt, Pope Francis turns to contemplation as he walks with God through the many decisions he has to make. He is a definite champion of neighborly love and emphasis on the care of the poor. His listening presence exudes being merciful, joyous and poor.

It is his surrender to ongoing transformation that most strikes me at this moment in time. This Pope calls the Church and us to a “pastoral conversion”—one that builds bridges and opens arms of mercy and inclusion. He is a leader who listens, reflects, prays, and then makes decisions that move the Church forward. He is honest in realizing that he didn’t always do things right.

One paragraph in the book seems to sum up this “ongoing transformation” of Pope Francis:

Cardinal John Henry Newman, canonized by Francis in October 2019, famously observed that “to live is to change” and that “to be perfect is to have changed often.”  What matters in the spiritual life is ultimately this openness to be changed, which requires trust—or as Christians say, “faith.”  What blocks it is the fleeing from this openness:  trusting, rather, in ideology, structures, or an idealized sense of self.  A saint is one who has moved out from those “false” selves to become what God calls her to be.”

We don’t have to wait for huge moments of transformation. Each day we are invited to surrender in numerous ways to this ongoing transformation. In fact, it is probably the smaller moments of transformation that prepare us for the “big ones”! Thank you, Pope Francis, for being humble enough to expose your own moments of conversion and transformation!

Each day we can reflect and see where the invitation to ongoing transformation was presented to us. What did I notice?  How did I respond? Did I change? Did I surrender to this invitation to ongoing transformation? 

“Led by God, let them begin a life of penance, conscious that all of us must be continuously and totally converted.”  (TOR Rule 6)