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Center for Action and Contemplation

Suffering

Thursday, June 11, 2015

“Might the authority of those who suffer bring the diverse cultural and social worlds together?”

—Johann Baptist Metz

I believe this profound question about suffering, from a modern German theologian, succinctly and precisely expresses the religious breakthrough that Christ has offered humanity. It is also foundational to understanding the unique Franciscan view of the world. True gospel authority, the authority to heal and renew things and people, is not finally found in a hierarchical office, a theological argument, a perfect law, or a rational explanation. The Crucified revealed to the world that the real power that changes people and the world is an inner authority that comes from people who have lost, let go, and are re-found on a new level. Twelve-step programs have come to the same conclusion in our time.

Both Francis and Clare had this kind of inner authority that is still part of their essential message for the world. They let go of all fear of suffering; all need for power, prestige and possessions; any need for their small self to be important; and came to know something essential—who they really were in God and thus who they really were. Their house was then built on “bedrock,” as Jesus says (Matthew 7:24).

Such an ability to really change and heal people is often the fruit of suffering, and various forms of poverty, since the false self does not surrender without a fight to its death. If suffering is “whenever we are not in control” (which is my definition), then you see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God. Then we become usable instruments, because we can share our power with God’s power (Romans 8:28).

Such a counterintuitive insight surely explains why these two medieval dropouts—Francis and Clare—tried to invite us all into their happy run downward, to that place of “poverty” where all humanity finally dwells anyway. They voluntarily leapt into the very fire from which most of us are trying to escape, with total trust that Jesus’ way of the cross could not, and would not, be wrong. They trusted that his way was the way of solidarity and communion with the larger world, which is indeed passing away and dying. By God’s grace, they could trust the eventual passing of all things, and where it was passing to. They did not wait for liberation later—after death—but grasped it here and now.

Gateway to Silence:
Make me a channel of your peace.

Reference:
Adapted from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, pp. 19-21

Image Credit: Stigmatization of St. Francis (detail), 1297-1300, Giotto do Bondone, fresco, Upper Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, Italy.
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