About This Week's Prompts for Personal Meditation Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. -Luke 12:51-53
'Advent, already?' I asked from the cocoon of my study. At first glance the Gospel seems apocalyptic. But with a little more attention I perceived instead an intensification of Jesus' radical call to social reversals: the upsetting of the powerful in favor of the lowly. Of COURSE his message would overturn the family - the inauguration of the kingdom overturns everything else!
For this week's retreat I chose three scenes where the choice of radical love upset the family balance. Francis of Assisi publicly forsakes his father in the town square (meditation one). Jesus continues his story of the "prodigal son" with the emotional protestation of the faithful elder brother (meditation two). Finally, I'm often haunted by the heartrending scene between the philosopher Edith Stein and her elderly, devout mother, when Edith finally admits she is becoming a Carmelite nun just as Nazi persecutions intensify in 1933.
Nevertheless, hold fast to those you love. Have a good week.
Meditation One stark naked
Because Francis took bolts of cloth from his father's business, selling them and giving away the money, his father brings a legal suit against Francis.
But the day's surprises had just begun.
With remarkable composure, Francis rose from his place and approached the bishop. "My lord," he said, raising his voice, "I will gladly give back to my father not only the money acquired from his things, but even all my clothes." With that, Francis slipped through a side door of the cathedral, only to appear moments later stark naked, standing before the bishop and holding out all his clothes, with a cash purse placed on top of them. The astonished bishop took the garments and the money, handing them over to an acolyte.
Francis now turned to the crowd and said, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Until now, I have called Peter Bernardone my father. But because I have proposed to serve God, I return to him the money on account of which he was so upset, and also all the clothing which is his, and I want only to say from now on, 'Our Father, Who art in heaven,' and not, 'My father, Peter Bernardone.'" -Donald Spoto Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi
Peter Berdardone is restrained as he watches his son Francis strip on the town square, detail, Giotto, 1297-99
...and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. Luke 48b-50
And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. -Mark 1:17-20
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." -Mark 3:31-35
St. Francis, Rununciation of Worldly Goods, Giotto, 1297-99
Meditation Two the faithful son Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound." Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, "Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!" Then the father said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found."
Meditation Three beloved youngest daughter
Christians themselves often have trouble understanding the value of a contemplative vocation; for the Steins it was an impossibility. The day came when Frau Stein asked her daughter, "What do you plan on doing with the sisters in Cologne?" When Edith answered "Join them," peace at home was a thing of the past. Everyone in the family felt crushed by the tragedy. Edith herself clung to her friends to keep from faltering in her decision; her mother, not daring to display her anger openly, wept in desperation; the brothers and sisters did all they could to change their sister's mind. … To the eighty-four year old Frau Stein, it seemed as if her daughter wished to desert her just at the moment when Jews in Germany were undergoing bitter persecution. Edith Stein recognized the impossible nature of the situation. She knew there was no explanation that would satisfy her mother. Her friends and colleagues came forward with sympathy and advice, but they could not help her.
-Waltraud Herbstrith Edith Stein: A Biography
The Last Word
What could be meant by a peace which is not like the kind the world gives? It is a peace... stronger than suffering. Not a peace without warfare, but peace despite warfare, within warfare, beyond warfare. It is the peace of a soul that through love has come to dwell entirely in heaven and to share in heaven's own peace, regardless of anything earthly that can happen to it.
-Charles de Foucauld
Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
collect for proper 15, American Book of Common Prayer