Perseverance

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“The Franciscan Virtue of Poverty means doing with as little as you need and keeping things simple. It also means being able to relinquish with an open hand whatever anyone wants or takes away. Those who have a spirit of poverty deal more patiently with loss, because they know that what they owned wasn’t really theirs in the first place–everything is a gift from God.”
                                                                                 -Franciscan Virtues Throughout the Year, 117


All of us to some greater or lesser degree have challenges that seem monstrous, overpowering; these are pains and hurts that may have occurred in the past, may have hooks and chains in our skin, and these challenges are very real.  These hurts can often be stumbling blocks, and many times, end up being walls in our way rather than stones on the pathway.

Those of us in the Franciscan community are aware of a story about how Saint Francis, upon visiting a town plagued by a vicious wolf, befriended the animal and by doing so changed the beasts temperament from a viciousness to a protective nature towards the people of the town.  The wolf became such a friend to the townspeople that they would feed and care for it.  Upon it’s death, the creature was buried as a beloved neighbour.

Each of us have wolves in our lives.  These wolves are thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, principles that spark us to anger, to hate, to frustration, to grief, to sadness.  They put their hooks into our flesh and hold us back.  Many of us collect these, hold them as treasured possessions.   Grudges and resentments are saved with more favour than money by many people.  But they don’t move us forward.  Instead, they keep us from persevering and growing.

When we are able to set the wolves free, we find that our attitudes can change more readily.  While there may still be disappointment and challenge that we’d rather not deal with, suddenly the anxiety around it seems not as powerful.

Perseverance, like courage, occurs subtly over time and if often noticed by others before we notice it ourselves.


Right now, our mission in Cameroon is facing one of it’s greatest challenges ever. There is a very real chance that the home in which the mission and orphanage is housed will no longer be available because Msg. Joseph is unable to upkeep the costs of the rent. And yet, I believe, he still reads Mass, still tries to find food for the children, still tries to provide a safe home for them, trusting.

Many of us in our community would like to be able to help Msg. Joseph financially, but we are unable.  We persevere in our prayers and hopes for the mission there, and in our thoughts for Msg. Joseph that he is able to find both benefactors and meaningful employment.  Should you want to help with a one time donation or monthly contribution, click here and then click the donate button on the top left hand corner of the page.

Perseverance

Peace

f6792d95c72525e5dc277c9fb22e2ec6--olive-tattoo-olive-branch-tattooThe olive is a symbol of peace because for the tree to produce fruit, it needs to reach maturity in a place where the tree can establish itself well.  If there’s conflict near an olive grove, any kind of action that might disturb the trees, olives won’t grow.

Violence is everywhere.  I came to understand over the past few months that violence doesn’t have to be physical.  It can be as insidious as passive-aggressive behaviors in an unhealthy relationship, it can by verbal bullying, it can be racism or sexism so ingrained in ideas and practices that we’re not aware of it when and while it happens.  It’s a hard concept to accept because the term has meant something physical that ends in bruising, or bleeding, for so long.

That defining of the term forces us to ask really difficult questions.  One such question that I think a lot of us would rather avoid, but should be looked at, is abortion.  How do we define the conditions in which the violence of an abortion justifies the procedure?   Is prohibiting the right to an abortion violence?  Is the procedure itself a form of violence?  Is there a time when violence can serve a good, or is all violence by its nature invasive, harmful, and destructive?

My assumption is that right now, you’re not feeling very peaceful.

The reality is real peace can only exist when we actively and consistently face the toughest, most painful, most difficult topics of discussion that get in the way of our olive trees growing.

For example, when in activism does protest become violence?  Does protest and resistance ever enter into the realm of violence against a perceived oppressive individual, group, or idea?  And does that entering into violence discredit the value of the protest?

The principle of turning the other cheek, something Jesus taught, asks us to no respond with violence in the light of oppressive behavior, but instead to respond with the calmness of an olive tree slowing deepening it’s roots.  But in order to produce the fruit, the good olives, we also need to develop a bark-like firmness when it comes to behavior that is directed at us personally.

When we are attacked personally, if it is an attack that is undertaken in such a way to provoke a response, the moment we respond we engage in violence.  Regardless of how we may feel justified in our response, we are co-operating with the agreement to do battle and any moral high ground we may have had is lost.

In the case of an abortion, while I believe it is ultimately up to the individual to make the choice, I personally must rest with the belief that it is a form of violence inflicted upon the foetus, and an objectification of a human parentage as a reaction to an animate object that displays evidence of sentience.  It reduces body parts to consumer goods that can be discarded, and at it’s deepest is a patriarchal response.  It cannot exist alongside peace, and I would argue that the need for abortion is symptomatic of a deeper spiritual and emotional disconnect that all people in society, regardless of their sex, suffer from.


Most of us have, if we accept this new way of approaching the term violence, have been on the end of a violent action and probably committed a few of our own.  Peace comes when we let go of the need to be penetrated by the action into our psyche.  There are difficult and painful experiences that cannot merely be wiped from our consciousness because of the gravity of those experiences.  The trauma from hitting your thumb with a hammer is different than the trauma of being shot.  But I believe the process to recover is similar.

It happens in silence, in action within. It requires a commitment to consistently approach one’s self and to see without prejudice the nature of who we are, who we want to be, the mistakes we may have made, to find the patience to forgive ourselves and others, and the courage to walk in new directions.  It requires taking a perspective that includes all of the virtues I’ve been writing on and trying to assimilate them into a kind of cohesion in how we think, feel, act, and pray.  It requires the ability to allow individuals the dignity and respect to be wrong and to make the mistakes that will help them to grow while proceeding on a path that is best for your own well being.

“In peace and self same I will sleep and I will rest, for Thou hast settled me in hope.”

-Psalm 4

 

 

 

Peace

Patience

Patience is not just waiting, or watching.  Patience is knowing–sometimes knowing that we don’t know.

Patience is being comfortable no knowing, and sometimes acting gently, quietly, subtly, not disturbing the surface of the water.

Patience is active.  Patience is making a choice and waiting for the right time to act.

Patience is letting the steam blow out, the temperature drop.

Patience is active consciousness and love of self; it is the virtue of knowing that sometimes God works in seconds and moments, sometimes in lifetimes and over generations.  It’s accepting that there is a stream, a motion, a movement that we are a part of, that we may have some control of, but in the end we must surrender.

Patience is an act of faith.  Patience with others can be challenging, but patience with one’s self can be even more difficult, require more faith than trusting in others.

Patience is knowing that the day will have rain, but the sun will return.

 

Patience

Pardon

Therefore once for all this short command is given to you: “Love and do what you will.” If you keep silent, keep silent by love: if you speak, speak by love; if you correct, correct by love; if you pardon, pardon by love; let love be rooted in you, and from the root nothing but good can grow.

-St. Augustine of Hippo

Pardon

Obedience

Another hard post to write, which is why it’s taken an extra couple of days to get to it.  Trying to sort out why the word obedience has a negative connotation as well as a positive one.

The people I’ve spoken to have given me very similar responses when I ask, “What do you think of when you consider the word ‘obedience’?”  Rebellion from unfair or unjust ideas, especially those of us in the Gender and Sexually Diverse community, crashes up against the idea of obedience like a wave.  It can be mistaken for oppression very easily, and it can also be blind; many are obedient to a way of life they have never questioned, who’s values they have never tested, and who’s benefits either come at high costs to health or family or both.

When I think of obedience, what comes to mind is the will.  That part of ourselves that guides how we make directions and choices, how it weighs between what we want, what we need, and what we don’t want.  Many of us, including myself, have asked how obedience plays a part in my life in terms of taking direction or following instruction.  But there’s a deeper, more significant aspect to obedience that I think is important to examine.

Obedience, especially from the point of view of someone in religious life, is a vow one takes that links their life and choices to the immediate will of God, even and especially when that will isn’t clearly understood, or the direction may seem frightening or challenging.  It’s described in fluffy speak in phrases like “When God closes a door, They open a window.”  And when you hear these sayings, you don’t necessarily consider what that fully means.

As a Franciscan, I’ve had to make some very challenging choices, choices which at one end seem to take me away from what has been safe.  And I don’t feel safe 100% of the time having made those choices.  Many times, people in my life rail up against me for making those choices because they don’t understand, or those choices I make somehow directly challenge their own ideals and values.  Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience were the three vows I took two years ago in Toronto.  To a great extent, these three vows run contrary to what we in Western society hold as worthy, especially as worth in men who are supposed to be providers, protectors, and rescuers.

As a person, a human being, I often resist what the manifestation of obedience looks like because it hurts, it’s painful, it forces me to face fears and confront anxieties that I’d rather not deal with.  I won’t lie!  I’ve often run from facing those fears, only to have to come up against them again later and make the choice again to either face it head on, or run from it and pretend that it’s not real, or that it’s not effecting me.

I am almost fifty years old.  I’ve spent a great deal of my life struggling to learn who I am.  I can say with some certainty that the choices I’ve made in the last two years have been in obedience to the truth of who I am as a person, where I want to be as a person, and the kind of person that I want to continue evolving into.  The virtue of Obedience in it’s purest sense is to know my truth, to live that truth, even in the face and challenge of those who see no value in that truth, or who’s own lives are challenged by the presence of that truth.  It means listening for the quiet voice of God in every moment, in every situation, and hearing what God is saying–taking the time to truly discern what God is saying rather than making assumptions based upon needs and desires.

 

Obedience

Minority

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“The followers of most holy Poverty, having nothing, loved nothing, and therefore had no fear of losing anything.  They were content with a tunic only, patched sometimes within and without; no elegance was seen in it, but great abjectness and vileness, to the end they might wholly appear therein as crucified to the world.  They were girt with a cord, and wore drawers of common stuff, and they were piously intent upon remaining in that state, and to have nothing more.  Everywhere, therefore, they were secure, nor kept in suspense by any fear, distracted by no care, they awaited the morrow without solicitude, nor, though oftentimes in great straits in their journeys, were they ever in anxiety about a night’s lodging.  For when, as often happened, they lacked a lodging in the coldest weather, an oven sheltered them, or, at least, they lay hid by night humbly in underground places or in caves.  And by day those who knew how to, worked with their hands, and they stayed in lepers’ houses, or in other decent places, serving all with humility and devotion.

                                              –The Life of Saint Francis, Thomas of Celano, Chapter XV

 

 

Minority

Marian Devotion

Sometimes, the virtues cross into areas that make some people feel uncomfortable.  One of the things that I’ve encountered from a lot of my Protestant friends is the idea that Marian devotion isn’t something that’s scripturally sanctioned, and so, it’s a kind of heresy.

I get it.  I was walking my dog today and thinking about it, and yes!  I understand why a lot of people who aren’t Catholics find Marian devotion sort of odd, lumped in with a lot of other things that some people find odd about Catholicism.

BUT!

Rather than get into why we practice these devotions, I want to take the time in the blog post this week to explain what I’ve gotten out of these devotions, what these practices do to help strengthen my faith, and why I want to continue to do them.  More importantly, why Marian devotion is even more important for those of us who are members of the gender and sexually diverse community.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, although not officially sanctioned, is the manifestation of Our Lady whom I believe to be the most empathic to our community, and here’s why.  As an advocate, She appeared in a way that millions of people could relate to culturally in ways that people who were not members of the culture couldn’t see.  For one, the image was produced in a way that was culturally interpreted as a codex:  namely, the entire image is presented so that images on the cloak, positions of Our Lady’s feet in dancing posture, even the reflections in the eyes which under examination show reflections as in a room, as in how human eyes would appear if photographed, all are presented in such a way that individuals and elders familiar with reading indigenous texts.

A manifestation of the divine presented itself in a way that, up until then, had always manifested itself in a western style.

In other words:  Divinity presented through the lens of diversity.

The rosary is something that I try and pray every day; the focus of verbal prayer combined with the movement of beads through my hand, the focus of the mind on images from the life of Christ, and intentions of the people I’m praying for.  During the day, I recite the “Ave Maria” repeatedly in my mind over and over.  When I was in the midst of the hardest depression, I would reach out in prayer to try and find solace.  As I grew stronger and overcame a lot of my depression, I’ve found that from time to time my brain tries to get back into that imbalanced way of thinking.  The Ave Maria has been a strong way of focusing my mind away from those kinds of thoughts that bring me into depression and anxiety.  It doesn’t always stop the depression or the anxious feelings, but it does help to keep my head above water.

But more importantly, from a Franciscan perspective, Marian devotion helps us to connect with a kind of love that, on earth, I believe is the closest love to Divine Love;  namely, the love of a mother for her children.

As Queer people, we have often encountered that love through a lens that is human, limited, a lens that encourages rigidness and conformity.  Rather than recognize the beauty, the gift of diversity that is present in each of us, many through fear have attempted to force conformity, rigidity.  Our society has forced this kind of conformity in ways that have supressed and injured people and cultures in ways that we can’t begin to fathom.

The love of the Blessed Mother is a model for us to work towards–the love that looks past the dirt, the muck, the poop and pee, the tears, the anger, the temper tantrums, and just loves us for who we are, for what we are, regardless of how others might see us.  Its a call to emulate that love, as hard as that is, viewing each person as someone who at once could be a mother, or a child.

The Marian Devotion, the true devotion, is practicing the teaching of Love in all our lives, even when we are angry, even when we are frustrated, even and especially when we are confronted by truths that may seem hurtful, may seem directed towards us, but may also be challenges to see individuals in ways that deepen not only our love for others, but for self, for Mary, for Jesus, and for God.

Hail Holy Queen, mother of mercy,

Hail our life, our sweetness, and our hope.

To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;

To thee do we lift up our sighs, mournful and sorrowful in this valley of tears.

Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us.

And after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb,

Jesus.

O clement, o loving, o sweet virgin Mary:

Pray for us, oh holy mother of God, that we may become

worthy of the promises of Christ.

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Marian Devotion