Tag Archives: Franciscans

16 May: Dexterity at Natation, or the swimming friars.

“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.

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10 May, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXXV: Run, John, run!

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!
MMB

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9 May, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXIV: returned to himself

And as Brother John with such words lay at the feet of Christ, his prayer was heard, and he received from Him the first grace, to wit the flame of love divine, and he felt altogether renewed and comforted and knowing within himself that the gift of divine grace had returned to him again, he began to give thanks unto the blessed Christ and devoutly kiss His feet.

As he rose up, to gaze upon the face of Christ, Jesu Christ stretched out His most holy hands for him to kiss; and when that Brother John had kissed them, he drew near and leaned upon the breast of Jesu and embraced and kissed Him; and Christ in like manner embraced and kissed him. And in this kiss and this embrace, Brother John perceived ao divine a fragrance, that had all the fragrant spices and all the sweet-smelling things of ail the earth been gathered together, they would have seemed but as a stench in comparison with that fragrance. Brother John was right well illumined and consoled, and that fragrance remained within his soul for many months. And thenceforth, from out hia mouth that had drunk of the fountain of divine wisdom in the sacred breast of the Saviour, there came forth marvellous and celestial words, that change the hearts of men and brought forth rich fruit of souls in those who heard them.
And in the little path in the wood, whereon the blessed feet of Christ had stood, and for a great space all around, did Brother John always perceive that fragrance and behold that splendour, whene’er he fared thither, and for a long time thereafter. When Brother John returned to himself again after this ecstasy, and the bodily presence of Christ had disappeared, he remained so illumined in his soul, from the abyss of His divinity, that albeit he was not a man learned through human study, yet in marvellous fashion he solved and explained the most subtle and lofty questions touching the divine Trinity, and the deep mysteries of the Holy Scripture. And oftentimes thereafter, when he spake before the pope, and the cardinals, and the king, and his barons, and the masters, and doctors, they were all amazed at the lofty words and the profound thoughts that he spake.

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Praying with Pope Francis: May.

During May, we pray that deacons, faithful in their service to the Word and the poor, be an invigorating symbol for the whole Church.

Jesus became bread broken for us, and He asks us to give ourselves to others, no longer to live for ourselves, but for one another.
– Pope Francis

Francis mentions bread because from the very beginning (Acts 6) Deacons were appointed by the Church to help with distributing food to the community. Saint Stephen was one of the first group of seven deacons in Jerusalem and was stoned to death by the mob who attended his trial for blasphemy. Shown here above the door of his church in Canterbury; see also our post for St Stephen’s day.

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We remember especially our friend and contributor, Friar Deacon Chris (top picture): teacher, scholar, writer, friend to refugees. The church would be poorer without the likes of him!

Will.

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8 May, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXIII: fervour and desire.

the narrow ath

But since the desire of holy men, when God delays to hear, doth kindle in them greater love and merit, Christ, the blessed One, departed without hearing him, and without him speaking to him aught at all, and he went by the little pathway aforesaid. Then Brother John arose, and ran after Him, and once again threw himself at His feet, and with holy importunity held Him back, and with most devout tears besought Him, and said: “O most sweet Jesu Christ, have mercy upon me in my trouble; hear me for the multitude of Thy mercies, and for the truth of Thy salvation, and give back to me the joy of Thy countenance and Thy glance of pity, for the whole world is full of Thy mercy.
And still Christ departed and spake naught unto him, nor gave him any comfort; and He dealt with him even as a mother with her child, when she makes him desire the breast and makes him run behind weeping, to the end that he may thereafter receive it the more willingly. Brother John still followed Christ with greater fervour and desire; and when he was come close up to Him, the blessed Christ turned and looked upon him with a glad countenance and gracious; and opening His most holy and most pitying arms, embraced him very tenderly; and as He opened thus His arms, Brother John saw streaming from the most sacred breast of the Saviour rays of shining light, which illumined all the wood and him likewise, both in body and soul.
Then Brother John kneeled him down at the feet of Christ, and the blessed Christ of His loving kindness gave him His foot to kiss, as He did to the Magdalene; and Brother John holding it and with all reverence, bathed it with so many tears that he seemed a second Magdalene, saying devoutly:

‘I pray Thee, Lord, that Thou look not on my sins, but by Thy most holy passion and by the shedding of Thy most holy blood, revive my soul in the grace of Thy love, sith this is Thy commandment, that we love Thee with all our heart and with all our soul, the which commandment none can keep without Thy help. Help me then, most beloved Son of God, that I may love Thee with all my heart and with all my strength.”

This is a prayer any Christian could make their own; we do not ask to see the distant scene, let alone be assumed into it.

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7 May, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXII: no repose for Brother John.

After three years, it pleased God to take away from Brother John that ray and fire of love divine, and reave him of all spiritual consolation. Whereby Brother John remained without the light and love of God, and altogether disconsolate and afflicted and distressed. For the which cause, being in such anguish, he went through the wood running hither and thither, calling with cries and tears and sighs on the beloved spouse of his soul, who had hidden himself and gone away from him, and without whose presence his soul could find no rest and no repose: but in no place and in no manner could he find his sweet Jesu again, nor taste again those sweet spiritual draughts of the loye of Jesu Christ, as he had been wont.

This tribulation endured for many days, in which he abode continually weeping and sighing, and praying God that of His pity He would give back to him the beloved spouse of his soul. At the last, when it pleased God to have made trial enough of his patience and to have kindled his desire, on a day when Brother John was going through the wood in such affliction and distress, he sat him down for very weariness, leaning against a beech tree, and remained with his face all bathed in tears looking up to heaven, — behold! suddenly Jesu Christ appeared hard by him in the path, whereby Brother John had come, but spake naught. Brother John seeing Him and knowing full well that it was Christ, straightway threw himself at His feet, and with sore weeping besought Him very humbly, saying:

“Help me, O Lord, for without Thee, my most sweet Saviour, I am full of darkness and weeping, without Thee, most gentle lamb, I am full of anguish and pain and fear; without Thee, Son of God most high, I am full of confusion and shame, without Thee, I am bereft of all good and am blind, since Thou art Jesu Christ, the true light of souls; without Thee, I am lost and damned, for Thou art the life of souls, and the life of lives; without Thee, I am barren and dry, for Thou art the fountain of every gift and grace; without Thee, I am altogether disconsolate, for Thou art Jesu our redemption, our love, and our desire, the bread of comfort, and the wine that maketh glad the hearts of the Angels, and the hearts of all the Saints; enlighten me, most gracious Master, and most tender Shepherd, for I am Thy little sheep, unworthy though I be.”

The prayer that finishes this post was not composed by one who was mentally ill. But he was altogether disconsolate, and told Jesus so.

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6 May: Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXI: heavenly gifts.

St Francis at Ste Anne de Beaupre, Canada



Brother John of Alvernia, while yet a boy and living in the world, desired with all his heart to tread the path of penitence that keepeth pure both body and soul, whereby being still a little child, he began to wear the shirt of mail and iron girdle on his flesh, and to use great abstinence and above all, he shunned all carnal delights and mortified his body with great severity of abstinence but inspired of God he minded to leave the world with the lovers thereof, and to offer himself wholly unto the arms of the Crucified, in the habit of the crucified Saint Francis; and even so he did.

And being received into the Order while yet a boy, and committed unto the care of the master of the novices, he became so spiritually minded and so devout, that many a time hearing the said master speaking of God, his heart would melt like wax before the fire; and the love of God kindled in him such sweetness of grace, that not being able to remain still to endure such sweetness, he would get up, and as one drunken in spirit, would run, now through the garden, now through the wood, now through the church, according as the flame and the ardour of the spirit drave him.

The divine grace made this angelic soul to grow continually from virtue unto virtue, and in heavenly gifts, being uplifted unto God and rapt in ecstasy; so that at one time his mind was lifted up to the splendours of the Cherubim, at another time to the ardours of the Seraphim, at another to the joys of the Blessed, at another to the loving and ineffable embraces of Christ. And above all, once upon a time in exceeding wondrous fashion his heart was kindled with the fire of love divine, and this flame lasted in him for full three years, in which time he received marvellous consolations and visitations divine, and oftentimes was rapt in God, and in short, in the said time he seemed all on fire and burning with the love of Christ; and all this was on the holy mount of Alvernia.

Who today would counsel a young boy to wear penitential clothes? At least the Franciscans of the time let him run, run, run, like Zorba and his dancing. But things take a turn after three years.

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5 May: Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXX: Brother Jacques’ nightmare.

Brother John was resplendent above all the rest that had more completely drunk the chalice of life, whereby he had the more deeply gazed into the abyss of the infinite light divine: and had learned therein of the adversity and the tempest that was to rise up against this tree and shake and toss its branches. For the which cause Brother John came down from the top of the branch whereon he stood; and going down below all the branches hid himself in the solid tree and was rapt in thought.

One of the brothers that had taken part of the chalice and part had spilt, climbed up on to that place, whence Brother John had come down, And the nails of his hands became iron, sharp and keen as razors: whereat he left the place to which he had climbed, and with rage, and fury sought to hurl himself upon the said Brother John for to do him hurt. But Brother John cried aloud and commended himself to Christ that sat upon the throne; and Christ called unto him Saint Francis, and gave him a sharp flint stone, and said: “Take this stone and cut off the nails of that brother, wherewith he would fain tear Brother John, so that he may do him no hurt,”
Then Saint Francis came and did even as Christ had commanded. And this done, there arose a storm of wind, and shook the tree so violently that the brothers fell down on to the ground, and first of all they that had spilled all the chalice of the spirit of life, and were carried away by the devils to places of darkness and torment.

But Brother John, together with the others that had drunk all the chalice, were borne by the angels unto the place of life, and of light eternal, and beatific splendour. And Brother Jacques, that saw the vision, understood and discerned distinctly and separately all that he saw, touching the name and and condition and state of each one of them clearly. And so long did that storm beat against the tree that it fell, and the wind carried it away.
When the storm ceased, straightway from the golden root of this tree sprang up another tree that was all of gold, which brought forth leaves and flowers and fruit of gold. Of this tree, and how it spread out its branches and fixed deep its root, and of its beauty and fragrance and virtue, it were better to keep silence than to speak.

I was weighing up a shard of flint in my hand this morning. It was a good fit for my hand, and quite sharp, even from the batterings received in its centuries as a stone. The idea of being chased by Saint Francis wanting to cut my nails is pretty scary but so is that of being chased by a maddened, jealous friar! Thirty years after the hurricane blew down trees in our street their replacements are tall and sturdy. They were paid for bby the residents and businesses along the road. Brother Jacques’ second tree would have shared that communal vigour, emerging as fire-tested gold. May we have the grace to pass through the flames unhurt.

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May 4, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXIX: a tree fair to see.

LXIX BROTHER JACQUES of La Massa, unto whom God gave perfect knowledge and understanding of the Holy Scriptures and of things to come was of so great sanctity that Brother Giles of Assisi, Brother Mark of Montino, Brother Juniper, and Brother Lucido said that they knew of no one in the world that found greater favour in the sight of God than this Brother Jacques.

Brother Jacques with great humility confessed that he beheld in a dream a tree fair to see and very great, whose root was of gold, and its fruits were men, and they were all of them Brothers Minor. Its main branches were distinctly marked according to the number of the provinces of the Order, and each branch had as many brothers as there were in the province whose name was written on the branch. And he saw Brother John of Parma on the highest point of the midmost branch of this tree, and on the tops of the branches round about were the ministers of all the provinces.

And thereafter he saw Christ sitting on a throne exceeding great and shining, and Christ called Saint Francis up thither and gave him a chalice full of the spirit of life, and sent him forth saying : “Go, visit thy brothers, and give them to drink of this chalice of the spirit of life; for the spirit of Satan will rise up against them and will strike them, and many of them will fall and will not rise up again.”

And Christ gave unto Saint Francis two angels to bear him company. Then came Saint Francis to give the chalice of life to his brothers; and he gave it first to Brother John of Parma: who, taking it, drank it all in haste, devoutly; and straightway he became all shining like the sun. And after him Saint Francis gave it to all the other brothers in order; and there were but few among them that took it with due reverence and devotion, and drank it all. Those that took it devoutly and drank it all, became straightway shining like the sun ; but those that spilled it ail and took it not devoutly, became black, and dark, and misshapen, and horrible to see; but those that drank part and spilled part, became partly shining and partly dark, according to the measure of their drinking or spilling thereof.

I rarely remember my dreams and the scraps and figments that linger barely make sense. But reading this one, we can pray that, like James and John, we can drink the cup that Jesus drank to the very end, and shine with him so that people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

This picture, from Brother Chris, shows a tree of Francis’s life. John of Parma was the seventh Minister General of the Franciscans.

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3 May, Little Flowers of Saint Francis, LXVIII: a tale of two brothers.

We have not gathered the Little Flowers of Saint Francis for a while. This week’s selection are stories of dreams and visions of certain brothers of the early years of the Order. I knew someone who had a clear dream of angels coming to welcome a dear friend of hers into Paradise; it is perhaps a commoner experience than we imagine that a dream has a message for us; maybe even a dream that barely registers on our conscious mind.

There were two brothers in the Order; the one named Brother Humble and the other Brother Peaceful, the which were men of exceeding great sanctity and perfection; Brother Humble, abode in the House of Soffiano, and there died; and the other belonged to another community at some distance therefrom. Now it pleased God that as Brother Peaceful was at prayer one day in a lonely place, he was rapt in ecstasy, and saw the soul of his brother, Brother Humble, that had just then left the body, going straight up into heaven without either let or hindrance. Many years after, Brother Peaceful was sent to the community in the House of Soffiano, where his brother had died.

About this time the brothers, at the request of the lords of Bruforte, exchanged the said House for another; wherefore, among other things, they carried with them the relics of the holy brothers that had died in that House, and coming to the grave of Brother Humble, his brother, Brother Peaceful took up his bones, and washed them with good wine and wrapped them in a while napkin, and with great reverence and devotion kissed them and wept over them; whereat the other brothers marvelled, and deemed he set them no good example in that it seemed that, albeit a man of so great sanctity, he mourned for his brother, with a carnal and a worldly love; and that he showed more devotion to his relics than to those of the other brothers that had been of no less sanctity than Brother Humble, and whose relics were worthy of as much reverence as his.
Brother Peaceful knowing the evil imaginings of the brothers, humbly said unto them: “My brothers most dear, marvel not that 1 have done for the bones of my brother what I have not done for the others for, blessed be God, I was not moved thereto, as ye deem, by carnal love; but so have I done, for that, when my brother passed away from this life, praying in a lonely place and distant far from him, beheld his soul rise straight to heaven, whereby I am assured that his bones are holy and should be in Paradise. And if God had granted me such surety touching the other brothers, then would I have paid the self same reverence unto their bones.” For the which cause, the brothers, seeing his holy and devout intent, were through him well edified, and gave praise unto God, that doeth such marvellous things unto His holy ones, the brothers minor.

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