10 October 2006

Luminous Mysteries

One of the ways St. Francis challenges me is the way he literally and passionately followed Christ. Before his conversion, he once had a vision that he was the lord of a court filled with shields and trophies gained through military victories. A few years later, when he heard Jesus' command, "Go, rebuild my church, which you can see has fallen into ruins," Francis literally starting rebuilding the chapel of San Damiano, brick-by-brick. While he eventually learned that God was calling him to win spiritual victories and rebuild the faith of apathetic Christians, there was one calling that St. Francis took literally right from the beginning and from which he never wavered:

"And preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of God is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without pay, give without pay. Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food."

-Matthew 10:7-10

Hearing Christ's command, Francis shed the last of his few belongings, put on the rough brown tunic that has become the Franciscan habit, and began cleansing lepers and preaching repentance to anyone (or any animal) that would listen. This Gospel formed the simple beginnings of the Franciscan order. Even as they grew in numbers, he demanded that his friars remain faithful to Lady Poverty, committing not even a hint of adultery.

I was reminded of St. Francis' passionate obedience to Jesus' instructions while praying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary a few days ago because each of the mysteries focuses on words that leave no room for metaphorical interpretation.

First Luminous Mystery - Baptism of Jesus: The Holy Spirit descends upon Christ like a dove while a voice from Heaven says, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Second Luminous Mystery - Wedding at Cana: After Jesus tells his mother that his time has not yet come, Mary instructs the servants, "Do whatever He tells you."

Third Luminous Mystery - Proclaiming the Kingdom: Wouldn't you know, this happens to be same passage I already quoted above that inspired St. Francis to cast away all belongings, cleanse lepers, and preach repentance.

Fourth Luminous Mystery - Transfiguration: This one relates to the first two mysteries; once again there is a voice from Heaven announcing, "This is my Son," and we are instructed like Mary told the wedding servants, "Listen to Him!"

Fifth Luminous Mystery - Institution of the Eucharist: "This is My body, which is given for you. ... This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."

Most of our Protestant brothers and sisters would dispute the literal interpretation of that last one. Sadly, in our disputing over theology, we probably disregard our duty to proclaim the Kingdom of God. And while it's easy for Christians to cast aside theology as academic stuff that gets in the way of spreading the Gospel, I can't help but think that the gift of Christ's flesh and blood in the Eucharist is what enabled the most radical proclaimers of the Kingdom, like St. Francis and Mother Theresa, to serve the way they did.

St. Francis knew that Christ was present in the Eucharist and it wasn't just academic knowledge; he drew strength and love from the Eucharist. If you read much about Mother Theresa outside of Time magazine, you'll learn very quickly that she considered Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament central to the lives of nuns in her order.

After procrastinating for some time, I am personally excited about finally scheduling an hour every Thursday morning to pray before Christ at a local Adoration chapel on my way into work. I'm sure a lot of people think that praying in the presence of a Communion wafer is clearly a waste of time. I could be out there sharing Christ's love with my friends, serving the needy, and other good works that bear fruit in our lives through faith.

Yet all these good works are nothing without making God our first priority. I'm not going to the Adoration chapel in hopes of becoming a holier person. I already have Christ and the hope of eternal life, so what do I have to gain? Rather, I'm doing it because I know that God will use that one hour a week to sanctify the rest of my week, make me a more faithful servant, and draw the people I know closer to Christ. Whatever good comes from it will not be my own doing, but merely through my submission to God.