The final part of Sister Margaret’s reflection on the way of penance, Franciscan style. Thank you again, Sister! The last sentence is enough to ponder on throughout Lent.
We, as Franciscans, have been invited to join the way of penance. At times we will fail, for it is not always easy to turn away from ourselves, or to turn away from the values of the world which are, for the most part, so different from the values of God. When we do fail it is then, more than ever, that we need to turn to God and tell him we are sorry and carry on in our journey of penance – our journey of love, our soul’s journey into God.
There has been an intimacy about our walks in the countryside during this virus time: Mrs Turnstone, our daughter and I have trodden paths, lanes and byways, often along the Pilgrims’ Way that crosses Kent, making for Canterbury and then down to Dover for Rome or Compostella. Sister Margaret offers us the insight that the way of penance is the way of intimacy with God.
The way of penance, the life of penance, is a call to a life of intimacy and union with God. The way of penance began for Francis, as we have seen, with an experience of God that radically changed his whole life. Because of this he was able to take up daily this life of penance, this daily turning away from himself to His God. It was through this way, the way of penance, that Francis found union with God.
Sister Margaret’s continuing reflection on Penance.
Penance affects the whole person and reflects itself in the lives of all men and women who profess to live a life of penance – reflects itself in their relationship with God, with themselves and with others.
We can say that penance (penitence, repentance) is the total and continuous giving of self to God in a life of love. When we understand it in this sense then the Lenten Preface does make sense. Lent is a joyful season, a season to be celebrated, not suffered, for it encourages us once more to turn continuously from ourselves to our God. This in turn means that we are more able to turn in love towards our brothers and sisters.
The Capuchin Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa is one of Pope Francis’s new cardinals. He has been the Preacher to Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. I thought we could learn from this extract from a piece published by The Tablet on May 28.
We must remember that the Eucharist is not just a banquet and communion; it is also “sacrifice”, that is, it is the same and only sacrifice of Christ that is “re-presented” (St Paul VI’s term), in the sense of “made present again”, on the altar.
Every Mass, even those celebrated these days privately or with a few people, is offered by the whole Church and for the whole Church. It is only in celebrating the Eucharist during the lockdown that I have fully understood this. At the moment when I pour the few drops of water into the wine glass, I think of the tears being shed, the sufferings, of all humanity.
Standing in a queue, I got talking to a Sister, and by the time we reached the canteen counter I had established that she belonged to the same Franciscan congregation as some other Sisters I had known, including Sister Anne. ‘But Anne is with Jesus’, she said.
I did not know she had died, but from when I worked with Anne, I’ve no doubt at all that she is with Jesus. Her Sister’s faith is not afraid to say so out loud, gently asserting the resurrection and the life, the communion of saints, yes, and the forgiveness of Anne’s sins, and of our own.
Saint Francis must have taken some looking after! His quest to live a more simple life must have worried his companions who, after all, had joined his company to be with him, among other motives.
Saint Francis sought how he might find a place wherein he might the more solitary keep the forty days’ fast of Saint Michael the Archangel, which beginneth with the feast of the Assumption. wherefore he called unto him Brother Leo; and said: “Go and stand in the doorway of the Oratory where the brothers lodge, and when I call thee, return to me again.”
So Broth Leo went and stood in the doorway; and Saint Francis withdrew himself a little space, and called aloud. Hearing him call, Brother Leo returned to him again, and Saint Francis said to him: “Son, let us seek for another more secret place, where thou canst not hear me when I call.” And as they searched, they found on the side of the mountain that looked towards the south, a lonely place and very proper for his purpose, but they could not win there because in front there was a horrible and fearful cleft in a huge rock. Therefore with great pains they laid a piece of wood over it as a bridge and got across to the other side.
Then Saint Francis sent for the other brothers and told them how he was minded to keep the forty days’ fast of Saint Michael in that lonely place, and therefore he besought them to make him a little cell there, so that no cry of his could be heard by them. And when the cell was made, Saint Francis said to them: ” Go ye to your own place, and leave me here alone, for, with the help of God, I am minded to keep the fast here, without disturbance or distraction, and therefore let none of you come unto me, nor suffer any lay folk to come to me. But, Brother Leo, thou alone shalt come to me, once a day, with a little bread and water, and at night once again at the hour of Matins, and then shalt thou come to me in silence, and when thou art at the bridge-head, thou shalt say; “Domine, labia mea aperies”1 ; and if I answer thee, cross over and come to the cell, and we will say Matins together, and if I answer thee not, then depart straightway.” And this Saint Francis said because at certain times he had been so rapt in God, that he nor heard nor felt aught with the bodily senses. And again Saint Francis gave them his blessing and they went back again to their own place.
1Lord, open my lips. The first words of the Divine Office.
Saint Francis was one day thinking on his death and of the state of his Order when his life was done, and saying: “O Lord God, what will become of Thy poor little family after my death, the which of Thy goodness Thou hast entrusted to me a sinner? who will pray to Thee for them? and other such words. There appeared unto him an Angel sent by God, and comforted him, saying : “I tell thee in the name of God, that the profession of the Order will never fail until the Day of Judgment, and there will be no sinner so great as not to find mercy with God, if with his whole heart he love thine Order, and none shall live long, that of malice persecutes thy Order. Moreover no very wicked person within thy Order, that does not amend his life, will be able to remain long in the Order.
Wherefore grieve not thyself, if in thine Order thou see certain that be not good brothers and do not observe the Rule as they ought, and think not that thereby this order will decline; for always a many shall be found therein that will perfectly observe the Gospel life of Christ and the purity of the Rule; and all such, immediately after the death of the body; and all such shall go into life eternal without passing through Purgatory; some will observe it but not perfectly, and these before they go to Paradise will be in Purgatory, but the time of their purification shall be left by God to thee. But of him that observes not the Rule at all, take no heed, saith God, for of such He Himself taketh no heed.”
And said these words, the Angel was away, and Saint Francis comforted and consoled.
It’s a few years since we marked St Francistide with the Transitus Service, marking his death and entry into glory. This version was celebrated at the Franciscan Study Centre some years ago. I believe it was put together by Friar Anthony Jukes. It includes Francis’s Canticle of the Sun, which gave Pope Francis the starting point for his encyclical, Laudato Si’!
Salve, Regína, mater misericórdiæ; vita, dulcédo et spes nostra, salve. Ad te clamámus, éxsules, filii Evæ. Ad te suspirámus, geméntes et flentes in hac lacrimárum valle. Eia ergo, advocáta nostra, illos tuos misericórdes óculos ad nos convérte. Et Iesum, benedíctum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsílium osténde. O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo María.
“We then walked to the beach, where there were a great number of bathers, all men. Amongst them were some good swimmers; two, in particular, were out at a great distance in the firth of the Guadalquivir, I should say at least a mile; their heads could just be descried with the telescope. I was told that they were friars. I wondered at what period of their lives they had acquired their dexterity at natation. I hoped it was not at a time when, according to their vows, they should have lived for prayer, fasting, and mortification alone. Swimming is a noble exercise, but it certainly does not tend to mortify either the flesh or the spirit.
From George Borrow, 1843: The Bible in Spain; or, the journeys, adventures, and imprisonments of an Englishman, in an attempt to circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula, available on Kindle or on line.
Borrow did not have a high opinion of friars! Clearly they should not enjoy themselves with an evening swim. To be fair, there were many who opposed his mission to bring Spaniards the Bible in the vernacular – he had Bibles and New Testaments in Spanish and the Gospel of Luke in the local Romany dialect, but without the Council of Trent’s official interpretive notes, which were anathema to Borrow as an evangelical Protestant! Times have changed, thank God, and the Catholic Church and Bible Societies are ready to co-operate in many ways.
All the thoughts of visions and dreams and crazy, uninhibited rushing about, and along came a poem. Run John, run!
It might have been dancing, like Zorba, or David before the Ark
But with you it was running: mad, measureless marathons of joy;
Crazed careering for Christ’s sake, labyrinthine, loving loping.
Your feet refreshed by the dry old novice-master’s words.
And the darkened day when the glad joy vanished from your veins,
What did you do but run and shout and cry; and run and cry: ‘My
God, why? Why have you forsaken me, oh why God, why?’
For why? To learn true wisdom, to learn how, not knowing God’s grace,
(Though it be quietly working in their thought, deed and word)
So many carry on, living as best they can, loving their fellows,
Stepping aside on the narrow path to let the stranger pass.
No stranger he, the silent one, who smiled as he walked by
Without a word. But not ignoring you, no fear; he wanted you
To follow to the log-bench, warm beneath the crabtree
At the corner: you can see it now, his piercéd feet cradled
In your hands. What then he taught you no dry novice-master
Ever could impart, but kings, bishops, country folk and friars
All received it from your heart. So run John, run! Run John, run!