Tuesday of the 4th Week in Lent 2019
San Francisco di Paola
One of the dominant themes of both the OT and the NT stories is what we have to look forward to in the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom, when we are confirmed as its citizens after our life on this earth, is a reign of plenty, a restoration of the joyful time at the beginning of human existence when the first man and woman roamed freely in the Garden of Eden. Ezekiel’s vision we just heard is his interpretation of this time of abundance in the days of conflict that preceded the first destruction of Jerusalem.
If you have the joy and privilege of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, you note that it is, for most of the year, a place of dryness, barrenness, in much of the land. The most precious resource, because of its rarity, is water. Israel’s inhabitants have been practicing rationing and recycling for generations, because of the sparse rainfall. Seeing that and then hearing Ezekiel talk about water coming from the Temple and filling the land and even sweetening the Dead Sea is a real eye-opener. But Ezekiel was not just a visionary. He was a prophet, calling men and women to repentance and promising them a Messianic age of justice, mercy, and abundance. In other words, he was foreseeing Christ’s overflowing love and grace given to us through the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.
In the time of Jesus, there was a place in Jerusalem where the sick went to be cured of all kinds of diseases, by immersing themselves in the waters of the communal bath. It appears that they believed when the waters were stirred, special healing was available. But this poor fellow in the Gospel was paralyzed, so he couldn’t reach the waters when they were healing. It’s a parable. Human beings are paralyzed by sin, by their bad habits, so they cannot reach the source of grace without aid. And it is Jesus who is both the One who enables us to ask for grace and forgiveness and who is Himself the Source of grace and forgiveness.
How do we become fit for the kingdom of God once we have accepted the grace of Jesus Christ into our lives? We practice the counsels Jesus gave us on the Mountain, the beatitudes. And the first is what St. Francis of Assisi called “Lady Poverty.” We become poor in spirit by turning over all our wealth to the Lord’s work. We don’t need to make ourselves destitute–that’s no blessing–but we do need to live simply and only spend our money on the things we really need for life. The rest is God’s.
The saint we remember today–Francis of Paola–lived in the fifteenth century, and lived out the spirit of his namesake, Francis of Assisi. His birth was considered miraculous, because his parents had trusted for a child for many years, and invoked Francis of Assisi to intercede for children. So they named their surprise son Francis, and even promised to send him to a priory for a year to live the Franciscan lifestyle. When they did, the habit “stuck,” and he became a mendicant friar in a new religious order we now call the “Minims.”
“Their name refers to their role as the "least of all the faithful". Humility was to be the hallmark of the brothers as it had been in Francis's personal life. Abstinence from meat and other animal products became a "fourth vow" of his religious order, along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Francis instituted the continual, year-round observance of this diet in an effort to revive the tradition of fasting during Lent, which many Roman Catholics had ceased to practice by the 15th century. The rule of life adopted by Francis and his religious was one of extraordinary severity. He felt that heroic mortification was necessary as a means for spiritual growth. They were to seek to live unknown and hidden from the world.”
Miracles were attested to his intercession both during and after his life. His feast is today, April 2, the anniversary of his passing into the kingdom of God. His feast is a fast this year, and in many years, because it often falls during Lent. In an era when the contrast between the rich and the poor is most pronounced–our own time–his example is one worth considering and imitating. Like Francis, we are all called to follow the example of Christ, who had nothing and gave everything. So we pray, St. Francis of Paola, pray for us.