Laudato Si’ is Out; And it is Shaking Things Up!

Laudato Si 2On June 18th, the Vatican officially released Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment:  “Laudato Si’.”  Truth be told, I have not actually read the document myself; I am basing my own observations on the analysis and commentary of others, whose opinions I trust.  Chief among them is John Allen, Jr. of Crux who has done some analysis on the encyclical.

The theological analysis of the document I have; comes from Father Dan Horan OFM, of Dating God, who gives a Franciscan perspective on the encyclical.  The other comes from Jay Michaelson, of Religion News Service.  He brings out some of the theological points in the document that he considers truly radical.

As a Franciscan, the theological points that grabbed my attention were found in Chapter 2: “Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbors, and with the earth itself.”  And in Chapter 3: “Our ‘dominion’ over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”  To Western ears these statements may seem very strange, but they are not new.  If one was to get beyond the image of St. Francis of Assisi as a statue holding a birdbath, one can see a Francis who knew that because of his intimate relationship with God, he had to have an intimate relationship with all people, and all creation.  Joined intimately with Christ, through the Gospels, through the Eucharist, and prayer, he was fully open to, and accepted the reality that he shared a kinship with all people, with all creatures, with everything that exists.

Francis passed this realization on to his followers, through his words and his actions.  Sadly, some of his children did not realize the depth of his teaching, but in recent times, we are finally beginning to get the point.  In our Secular Franciscan Rule, we have Article 18: “Moreover they should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which bear the imprint of the Most High, and they should strive to move from the temptation of exploiting creation to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship.”

It is this idea of “universal kinship” that Pope Francis is calling on the world, on all of us, to realize, and to act on.  It is a call to change our way of life, that is abusing our earth, and live in ways that will enhance our planet.

I do plan to read this encyclical myself, and hopefully I will be able share my own insights with you soon.  Pace e Bene!

I Want to Fly to Assisi

Where would I go if could be immediately transported somewhere?  I and other bloggers were challenged to write a post, answering this question.

I would like to be soaring over the green Umbrian countryside of Italy, like a brown sparrow, heading towards the small Italian city of Assisi.  It is an ancient city; most of the buildings were built during the Middle Ages, still being occupied.  I am heading towards a large Catholic Basilica, the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, the last resting place of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Saint Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant.  His father, who made his money selling fine cloth to French merchants, nicknamed his son Francesco as a tribute to the French.  Francis was the city playboy; it was not a party if Francis was not invited.  He was a social climber, who longed to belong to the nobility, to become a knight.  He was a soldier, a prisoner of war, a veteran who was broken in body and soul.  And because of his brokenness, Jesus Christ entered into Francis’ heart; and Francis experienced a conversion, a conversion to the Gospel life.  He began to give his money to any poor person who asked for alms.  He went among the lepers, caring for them, washing their sores, and binding them with bandages.  In the solitude of caves, he began to develop a deep spiritual, prayer life.  He reflected on the gospels, he entered into an intimate relationship with God.  Francis strived to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He gave away everything he owned, dressed like a beggar, in a grey, brownish robe.  He went about serving the poor, preaching in the streets, and marketplaces; proclaiming to all who would listen to him; that God loved them all.  Men, who heard his words, saw his lifestyle, were drawn to Francis, and soon he had twelve followers.  Twelve became a hundred; the hundred became thousands, all promising to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the example of Saint Francis.  They became the Order of Lesser Brothers, Order Friars Minor.  Women, like Clare of Assisi, were also drawn to this Troubadour of Christ.  With Clare, he formed a contemplative community of women, the Poor Ladies of Assisi, now known as the Poor Clares.  There were other men and women, farmers and tradesmen, wives and seamstresses, who also wanted to live the Gospel, and sought Francis’ guidance.  They became the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the Third Order of St. Francis; today known as the Secular Franciscan Order.

I became attracted to St. Francis during my third and last year at the archdiocesan seminary.  I had decided to take years’ leave from the seminary; I spent the year with a Christian ecumenical organization which provided worship services in the National Parks.  I was sent to Yellowstone NP, lead services during the weekend, worked in the kitchen the rest of the time.  And in the midst of all that natural beauty, I read about Francis and the Franciscan life.  After two years, I entered formation to become a Friar.  I was to realize that God had another path for me, so I left the Friars, but the Franciscan spirit was already embedded in my heart.  I would later join the Secular Franciscan Order; I have been a professed member for over 25 years.  And I am always wishing I had the means to make a pilgrimage to Assisi, to visit that Basilica.

Francis died on the evening of October 3, 1226, at the age of 44 years old.  He was canonized a saint in 1228.  The friars were already beginning the construction of the Basilica.  The best architects, artisans and artists, the pioneers of the Italian Renaissance, were brought onto the project.  The Basilica was constructed in two levels, the upper church with vaulted ceilings, and large stain glass windows.  The lower church is more enclosed, but both levels are covered with beautiful frescoes, painted by Italian master artists.  The Basilica is considered an international treasure.  However, when the Basilica was finished; the Friars buried Francis in secret; for fear that rival cities would try to steal the remains.  They did such a good job hiding the burial site, that Francis’ body was lost until 1819.  When the burial site was rediscovered, a new crypt was constructed under the lower church.  The crypt has a small chapel, with an altar.  Above the altar is a stone coffin, containing the bones of St. Francis.  It is bound with iron straps, and an iron grill over the entrance.  The walls of the crypt are bare stone, simple, unadorned.  It is there I wish I could sit, contemplating, in the dim light, the last resting place of a man who continues to inspire Christians and non-Christians.  And in the stillness of that place, maybe I can hear a whisper, wishing me and all who come there: “Pace e Bene!”  “Peace and Good!”

Basilica of Saint Francis lower Church Tomb of St Francis Upper Church

Let Me Introduce Myself….Again!

Photo 2

Greetings!  My name is Jonathan Jones.  I am a married Roman Catholic, a Secular Franciscan, and a Permanent Deacon.  I am writing this blog, because as St. Francis of Assisi is believed to have tell his followers, “preach often, and if necessary, use words.”  But as Francis preached from his own experiences of a loving God, I hope to share my own spiritual experiences with you.  I am also a child of Vatican II; I grew up during the Council, was educated by nuns and priests influenced by the Council, and believe firmly in the teachings that came out of the Second Vatican Council.  So my view of the world and the Catholic Church are colored by that experience, and I wish to share those views.  I have also been influenced by many spiritual fathers and mothers, living and dead.  These include my parents, Franciscans, religious and lay, among them: Francis and Clare of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bonaventure, and Angela of Foligno.  Others include: Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, St. John XXIII,  and Henri Nouwen.

My life experience has been varied, unique and interesting.  I have been a diocesan seminarian, and a Franciscan novice.  I have worked in the mutual fund industry for almost 33 years and have recently been laid off, and looking for work.  I am married to a wonderful woman, whose name is Peg, for a little over 26 years, who has been very loving, and very, very patient with me!

So all this I bring to the table, as I view my Church, my state, my nation, and my world.  I wish to share my views with you, and hope you will share yours with me.  Pax et Bonum!

Thomas Merton, 100th Birthday of a Trappst Monk…And a Secular Franciscan?

Merton

Today, January 31, 2015, would have been the 100th birthday of Father Louis Merton, OSCO; better known to the world as Thomas Merton. The Catholic, Christian blogosphere is abuzz with reports, stories, and reflections on the life of this Trappist monk, one I read on Crux, by Dennis Sadowski, of the Catholic News Service; another by Margery Eagan, On Spirituality columnist for Crux, and finally a very moving post by Father Dan Horan, OFM on his blog.

I do not know how many will share this opinion, but I think of Thomas Merton, as the one person who brought Christian spirituality, especially contemplative spirituality to the modern American Catholic population. After him, I think we see an increase in the number of books on spirituality, and prayer, geared for the Catholic laity, and new authors, like Thomas Keating, M. Basil Pennington, Richard Rohr, and Emilie Griffin. I know for myself, my spiritual life became much deeper, more enriched by reading his writings. He showed me a path to walk, and encouraged me to seek out other spiritual fathers and mothers, for inspiration and guidance.

I am still discovering new things about Merton, especially as heretofore unpublished journals, books, and essays are becoming public. This has given a much more rounded view of Merton, his life, his struggles, and his achievements. Now there are some facts that I was not aware of until I recently read Father Dan Horan, OFM book on Merton, was that Thomas Merton had some deep Franciscan roots. After his conversion to Catholicism, he felt a call to the Order of Friars Minor, and had applied to the Order, and was initially approved to enter into formation as a friar. Before he was to enter, something happened; scholars are not completely sure what, that caused Merton to withdraw his application. Still attracted to Franciscanism, he found himself at the Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure’s, in western New York. There, he joined the faculty as an instructor in English. It was during his time there, that he became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, now known as the Secular Franciscan Order. This bit of information floored me. Now I knew that Merton had a Franciscan connection. When I was once a Franciscan novice myself, and attended some summer classes at St. Bonaventure’s, I daily would look up at a hillside clearing, known as “Merton’s Heart.” But to learn that Merton had been a Secular Franciscan, “Wow!”

Of course, this brings a whole bunch of questions: what fraternity did he belong to? Is the fraternity still in existence? Is the fraternity’s register, with his name listed in it, still available? Did he attend monthly fraternity meetings, or was he an isolated tertiary, attached to a fraternity, but unable to make the meetings? Maybe someday, some scholar, maybe even a Secular Franciscan, will be able to find answer to these questions.

I owe a debt of thanks to Father Louis, for prodding me to go ever deeper into my relationship with God. May he rest in peace!

Loring Crossman – Rest In Peace Brother

Loring Crossman, OFS

Loring Crossman, OFS

Last week I lost a friend, Loring Crossman, a fellow Secular Franciscan.  I was asked the day before his funeral, to give a brief eulogy for him.  I had no notes when I gave it, but to the best of my memory, here is what I said.

“Loring Crossman was my brother.  Through Baptism, we were brothers in Christ.  We were also brothers in Saint Francis of Assisi.  Loring was a person committed to ’ living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi’  He succeeded me as Minister of our fraternity, and he lead the fraternity as we strived to adapt our lives to the new Rule of Life, that came out of Vatican II.  Like St. Francis, he led us with gentleness and compassion.  I only saw him lose his temper once, and that was at me over something I had failed to do.  Like St. Francis, he was generous with his time, talents, and treasure.  And like St. Francis, he had fraternity members who would provide comic relief.  I remember that once at the anniversary of our new Rule, St Bonaventure University, in New York, was sponsoring a seminar on the SFO Rule.  I drove there myself; Loring, Edwina and two other members were traveling together.  They had to pick up one member in Connecticut, because she was spending some time at the casinos!

Like St. Francis, Loring suffered from many illnesses.  In Francis’ final months, he spent some time with St. Clare and the Poor Ladies of Assisi, at San Daminao monastery.  Francis stayed in a small hut on the monastery grounds.  He was suffering from blindness, stomach problems and other illnesses.  And his hut was being overrun by mice and other critters, which allowed him no rest.  Yet, in all that suffering, Francis was able to compose a most beautiful hymn, the first poem in the Italian language, “The Canticle to Brother Sun.”  It was Francis way of praising God, despite all his suffering.  And I am sure that Loring, despite everything he was going through, was able to continue praising God, to trust in His love.  Loring was able to say, with all his heart, ‘Welcome Sister Death, I am going home to the Father.’’