Tag Archives: Franciscans

20 February. Little Flowers LXVII: Brother John’s journey 3: Dost thou not remember?

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It is not our merits that win us eternal life, but God’s mercy that is greater than all the sins of the world, something even the saintly Brother John needs reminding of in his last illness, which was mentally as well as physically distressing and painful. But the One who was crucified is the resurrection and the life; Brother John’s suffering was the gate to his eternal life.

In his last illness, Brother John dreamt that a devil stood before him with a great scroll, whereon were written all the sins that he had ever done or thought, and said to him: “For these sins that thou hast done in thought, word, and deed, art thou damned to the depths of hell,” And he could not call to mind any good deed that he had ever done, either in the Order or elsewhere, and so he thought that he was damned, even as the devil said.

Wherefore, if any asked him how he fared, he would answer: “I am damned.” Seeing this, the brothers sent for an aged brother called Brother Matthew of Monte Rubbiano, the which was a holy man and a close friend of this Brother John ; and Brother Matthew coming to him on the seventh day of his trouble, saluted him and asked him how he fared. He replied that he fared ill, sith he was damned.

Then quoth Brother Matthew: “Dost thou not remember how thou hast oftentimes confessed thyself to me, and I have wholly absolved thee of all thy sins? Dost thou not remember also that thou hast served God continuously in this holy Order many years? Besides, dost thou not remember that the mercy of God is greater than all the sins of the world, and that the blessed Christ, our Saviour, paid an infinite price for our redemption? Wherefore be of good hope that of a surety thou art saved ”; with these words, since the time of his purification was accomplished, the temptation left him, and he was comforted.

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And with great joy Brother John spake unto Brother Matthew : “Since thou art wearied and the hour is late, I pray thee go and rest thyself”; and Brother Matthew was loth to leave him ; but at length, at his much urging, he left him and went to lie down, and Brother John remained alone with a brother that did him service. And behold Christ, the blessed One, came with great splendour and with fragrance of exceeding sweetness, even as He had promised to appear to him a second time when his need was greater, and He healed him thoroughly of all his sickness. Then Brother John with hands clasped gave thanks unto God that he had made so good an end of the Jong journey of this miserable life, coming from this mortal life unto life eternal with Christ, the blessed One, whom he had so long desired and waited to behold.

And the said Brother John rests in the convent of La Penna of Saint John.

Cross by Constantina Wood;

Christ leading Adam and Eve out of Hell, Strasbourg Cathedral

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19 February. Little Flowers LXVI: Brother John’s journey, 2.

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As Brother John was praying devoutly one day, and weeping and lamenting that his life’s pilgrimage was so much prolonged, there appeared unto him Christ, the blessed One, and spake thus unto him: “My son, Brother John, ask of me whatsoever thou wilt”; and he replied : “My Lord, naught do I desire save Thee: but for this alone do I pray Thee, that Thou forgive me all my sins, and grant me grace to see Thee yet another time, when I have the greater need thereof.” Jesu said: “Thy prayer is granted.” And He was away, and Brother John remained altogether comforted.

At length, the brothers of the March hearing of the fame of his sanctity, prevailed with the General to bid him by holy obedience return to the March and he receiving this obedience, set out joyfully on his way, bethinking him that, done this journey, he needs would go to heaven, according to the promise of Christ, But when he had returned to the Province of the March, lie lived therein for thirty years.
Brother John, who was a man of cheerful and tranquil mind, spake but seldom, and was much given to prayer and devotion, and above all after Matins he would not return to his cell, but would continue in prayer in the church until daylight. While he was thus praying one night after Matins, the Angel of God appeared unto him, saying: “Brother John, now is finished thy journey, for the which thou hast waited so long; wherefore, in the name of God, I announce unto thee that thou mayest ask whatsoever grace thou wilt. And likewise I announce unto thee that thou mayest choose which thou wilt, — one day in Purgatory, or seven days’ pain on earth.”

And Brother John choosing rather the seven days’ pain on earth, straightway fell sick of divers infirmities; for a grievous fever seized him, and gout in his hands and his feet, and pains in his side, and many other ills but what was more grievous to him was that a devil stood before him and held in his hand a great scroll, whereon were written all the sins that he had ever done or thought, and said to him: “For these sins that thou hast done in thought, word, and deed, art thou damned to the depths of hell,” And he could not call to mind any good deed that he had ever done, either in the Order or elsewhere, and so he thought that he was damned, even as the devil said.

Here is Brother John’s vulnerability again, taking the devil’s word literally. I wonder if he’d be classed as autistic today, but clearly, to an onlooker, he is suffering from the temptation to despair over his own misdeeds. Tomorrow comes a friend-in-need.

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18 February, Little Flowers LXV: Brother John’s journey 1.

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Brother John’s earthly pilgrimage held a few surprises; it certainly turned out to be a much longer journey than he expected, but what boy can comprehend an adult life? This bridge is said to have been crossed by Saint Francis himself; it is at Gap, not many miles from Provence; perhaps Brother John crossed it too!

Brother John of La Penna was a boy in the Province of the March and still living the secular life, there appeared unto him one night a child exceeding beautiful, and called him, saying: “John, go unto Saint Stephen’s, where is preaching one of the Brothers Minor, give heed unto his words, seeing that I have sent him thither, and this done, thou hast a long journey to take, and then shalt thou come unto me.”

Straightway he arose and felt a great change within his soul. And coming to Saint Stephen’s, he found there a great multitude gathered to hear the preaching, He that was to preach was Brother Philip, and he preached exceeding devoutly, not with words of human wisdom, but by virtue of the Spirit of Christ, making known the kingdom of eternal life.

The boy went to Brother Philip, and said unto him: “Father, if it please thee to receive me into the Order, I would do penance willingly and serve our Lord Jesu Christ.” Brother Philip recognizing in the boy a right marvellous innocence and ready will to serve God,
said unto him: “Thou shalt come to me on such a day at Recanati, and I will have thee received”.
The boy, being very pure in heart, thought that this would be the long journey that he was to take, according to the revelation that he had had, and that thereafter he would go to Paradise; and so he thought to do straightway after he had been received into the Order. So he went and was received: but perceiving that his thoughts were not fulfilled at that time, and the Minister in Chapter saying that whoso desired to go into the province of Provence, for the merit of holy obedience, would have leave granted to him willingly, there came to him a great desire to go there, thinking in his heart that that would be the long journey that he must take, before he went to Paradise.

He besought Brother Philip tenderly that he would obtain for him this favour of going to the province of Provence. Then Brother Philip, seeing his purity and his holy purpose, obtained for him leave: so Brother John, with great joy, set out upon his way, bethinking him that, done this journey, he would go to Paradise.

But sith it pleased God, he abode in the said province five and twenty years in that expectation and desire, shewing himself a pattern of holy life, increasing always in virtue and favour with God and the people, and was exceeding much beloved by the brothers and by those in the world.

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February 14, Little Flowers LXIV: a Reflection on Brother Conrad’s prayers.

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We read yesterday how the prayers of Brother Conrad, an early Franciscan, opened the gates of heaven for a dead brother through his prayers. It was tempting to miss out this story from the Little Flowers, because the soul of that young brother who died went to Paradise through the merits of Jesus Christ, according to the Theology I was taught. I wasn’t looking for an argument! It comes naturally to Catholics to pray for the dead, but even so, where does Brother Conrad come in?

Firstly, it was his young friend who sought out Brother Conrad and asked him, not just to pray but to pray the Pater Noster – the Our Father – given to us by the Lord

‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,          and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’

It is as members of Christ’s body, the Communion of Saints, that the two Franciscan brothers come together in Conrad’s vision. It is as members of Christ’s body that they pray together: if the young brother requested that Conrad should say the Lord’s prayer for him, then that same prayer was at the front of his mind and heart: he was praying it himself, alongside Conrad; and where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. So the youth, Brother Conrad, and the Lord himself were praying together to the Father.

Conrad had a gift of being able to encourage the lad and help him to fit into the earthly community where he had chosen – and been called – to live. Perhaps, then, that same gift exercised by 100 Pater Nosters recited within the Communion of Saints, helped the brother to free himself from his remaining pains of fear and guilt to be fit for heaven.

Conrad’s merits? I’m still not sure, but if you suggested that Conrad’s gifts as mentor on earth to this young man were still effective after the young man’s death, I would not argue with you. Let’s place before Jesus all those who relied on us in this life, and would ask for our sympathetic prayers, could they speak to us now; and with Jesus let us pray:

OUR FATHER …

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12 February, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXII: Brother Conrad and the young nuisance, 1.

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Should young boys, teenagers maybe, be encouraged to join religious communities? Before there was universal education, they might well have had to pick up the basics in their monastery before their higher studies. Here we read about one such brother in the community of Offida, another hilltop town.

It appears from this distance in time that some of the brothers had forgotten what it was to be young, and their grumbling had the predictable effect of driving the lad crazy. Until Brother Conrad came along and encouraged young man to be studious of all virtue. We must not force young people back into a corner whence they have to fight to get out, but let us try to maintain the ‘fervour of charity’, and help them to find another way.

And let’s admit that it can be a good thing to be disturbed out of our complacency.

Brother Conrad of Offida, having come on a time as a guest to the House of Offida, the brothers prayed him, for the love of God and of charity, to admonish a young brother that was in that place, the which bore himself in a manner so childish and unruly and ungovernable, that he disturbed both old and young of the community in the divine office, and for the other observances of the rule cared little or naught.

Wherefore Brother Conrad, in pity for the youth and at the prayers of the brothers, called the said brother aside and in fervour of charity spake unto him words of admonition so effective and devout, that by the working of the divine grace he suddenly changed in his behaviour from a boy to an old man, and became so obedient, and gentle, and careful, and devout, and thereafter so peaceful and serviceable, and so studious of all virtue, that, as at the and first all the community had been disturbed by him, so were they all content with him and comforted, and loved him exceeding well.

Offida Town Hall, Wikipedia.

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29 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXII. Brother Conrad’s gentle persuasion.

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Brother Conrad of Offida, having come on a time as a guest to the House of Offida, the brothers prayed him, for the love of God and of charity, to admonish a young brother that was in that place, the which bore himself in a manner so childish and unruly and ungovernable, that he disturbed both old and young of the community in the divine office, and for the other observances of the rule cared little or naught.

Wherefore Brother Conrad, in pity for the youth and at the prayers of the brothers, called the said brother aside and in fervour of charity spake unto him words of admonition so effective and devout, that by the working of the divine grace he suddenly changed in his behaviour from a boy to an old man, and became so obedient, and gentle, and careful, and devout, and thereafter so peaceful and serviceable, and so studious of all virtue, that, as at the and first all the community had been disturbed by him, so were they all content with him and comforted, and loved him exceeding well.

A while after his conversion the youth aforesaid died, sith it was the will of God; whereof the said brothers were sore grieving.

These young Zimbabwean Novices are enjoying community life.

 

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1 January. The Franciscans come to Alvernia, VIII: a New Start and a Second Welcome.

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Back in October, we left Francis and his companions newly arrived at Mount Alvernia, where they were welcomed by the birds. News of their coming son reached Orlando, the landowner who gave them leave to live there. Although we might think how idyllic this life might be, the picture shows what weather can do in the area. Not great for comfortable camping!

Orlando, hearing that Saint Francis with three companions had climbed up the mount of Alvernia, for to dwell there, rejoiced with exceeding great joy, and on the following day set out with many of the folk of his castle, and came to visit Saint Francis, bringing with him bread and wine and other victuals for him and his companions; and being come there, he found them at prayer, and drawing near unto them, saluted them. Then Saint Francis arose, and with great love and gladness gave welcome to Orlando and his company; and this done, they sat them down to have speech of each other. And after they had somewhat spoken together, and Saint Francis had given him thanks for the holy mountain that he had given him, and for his coming thither, he besought him that he would let build a poor little cell at the foot of a fair beech tree, the which was a stone’s throw from the place where the brothers lived, for that place seemed to him very fit and hallowed for prayer. And straightway Orlando let build it.

And as it was drawing near unto evening and it was time for them to depart, Saint Francis preached unto them a little, before they took leave of him; and when he had preached unto them and given them his blessing, Orlando, finding he must needs depart, called Saint Francis and his companions aside, and said unto them: “My brothers most dear, I would not have you suffer any bodily want in this wild mountain, whereby you might the less be able to give heed to spiritual things: and therefore I desire, and this I say to you for once, for all, that ye send to my house for whatsoe’er ye need, and if ye do otherwise, I shall take it ill of you.” And this said, he departed with his company and returned to his castle.

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28 December: Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXI: Brother Conrad goes into the wood.

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More early Franciscan characters! When I took the part of Simeon in a Mystery Play, I was more aware of the sword that would pierce Mary’s heart than of the sweetness sought by Brother Conrad in this story. No doubt trials came his way, but they were not recorded in this book of ‘little flowers’.

The holy Brother Conrad of Offida lived in the House of Forana, in the Custody of Ancona. He went one day into the wood to meditate on God, and Brother Peter followed him by stealth, for to see what might befall him.

Brother Conrad began to pray, most devoutly beseeching the Virgin Mary to beg of her blessed Son this grace, that he might feel a little of that sweetness that Saint Simeon felt on the day of the Purification, when he held in his arms the blessed Saviour Jesu. And when he had made this prayer, the Virgin Mary of her pity heard him; and behold: there appeared unto him the Queen of heaven with her blessed Son
in her arms, with a great light exceeding bright, and coming near unto Brother Conrad, she laid in his arms her blessed Son: who taking Him with great devotion, embracing and kissing Him and pressing Him to his breast, was melted altogether and dissolved in the love divine and consolation unspeakable.

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Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

And in like manner Brother Peter, who from his hiding-place saw all that befell, felt in his soul exceeding sweetness and consolation. And when the Virgin Mary had departed from Brother Conrad, Brother Peter gat him back in haste to the house, that he might not be seen of him: but thereafter, when Brother Conrad returned all joyful and glad, Brother Peter said unto him: “ O what heavenly great consolation hast thou had this day!” Quoth Brother Conrad: “What is this that thou sayest, Brother Peter? and what dost thou know of that which I have had?”

“I know full well, I know,” said Brother Peter, “how the Virgin Mary with her blessed Son hath visited thee.” Then Brother Conrad, who being truly humble desired to keep secret the favours of God, besought him that he would tell it unto no one; and from that time forth so great was the love between these twain, that they seemed to have but one heart and soul in all things.

And may we welcome every baby and mother whom we meet, as if they were the Christ-child and his mother. Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents.

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27 December: Look deeper than this pleasant scene.

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Like me, you have probably heard tell of  Saint Francis and the crib but like me, you may never have heard the full story. Follow the link to Friar Jack Wintz’s excellent telling of the story. I won’t attempt to precis his account as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I leave you with Friar Jack’s final paragraphs. 

Peace be with you and yours!

Will Turnstone.

Francis would smile at our nice varnished cribs, though he would bless any home that has one. Probably he would prefer those set up outdoors with live animals. And if he were to stand by one and preach today, he might say something like this:

“Look deeper than this pleasant scene. See your God become your food for eternity in a feeding place for animals. See the simple bands wound around the helpless baby, not the embroidered dress. See a man and woman wearing the clothes of the poor. See and smell the animals. Feel the cold and dirt of the cave, lighted only by a little fire. And adore your God, who took a human heart that could know the greatest love and the sharpest pain, arms that could embrace the sinners, the neurotics, the lepers, and hands that could touch cheeks running with tears, and be pierced with nails. Adore your poor and humble God.”

 

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19 December, Simon Says I: No Conditions

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God is the example of unconditional love.

In Jesus he took on the human condition, not on condition that we love him, but because his love has no conditions.

We hope to be publishing occasional sayings of the late Father Simon Denton OFM Cap under the title ‘Simon says’. Simon loved a paradox, but so does the Lord! And Mary, who cradled her baby is often shown with the weight of her dead Son’s body in her arms, as in this picture from the Missionaries of Africa. The true meaning of Christmas was a life-long passion, in Rowan Williams’ words. May we learn to drop the conditions we set when we love someone. 

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