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I wrote the following for this month’s newsletter, but thought I’d repost it here.

T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland begins with the line, “April is the cruellest month.” My April didn’t rise to such epic proportions, but it certainly proved to be difficult. But, as we know, difficult times are often the fertile soil from which God brings forth new life. For me, this took the form of retiring from my twenty-five year teaching career. I’ve taken a medical leave of absence through the remainder of the school year, after which time I will be “officially” retired. I’ll pass along the particulars at our next meeting, but suffice to say it’s been a challenging period for me and my family.

As you can imagine, many of my colleagues and students had quite a few questions about my leaving the classroom early. Without trying to sound too flippant–well, maybe I was, just a little–I found myself often saying words to the effect that “change is good.” Now that I’m not going in to school everyday, however, I’ve been thinking about that phrase. Perhaps it would have been better for me to say, “change is inevitable.” Change is so much a part of life as to make it difficult to separate the two. Whether the changes that make up our lives are for good or ill seems to depend on how we live those changes.

I have–had–several colleagues who are of the “glass half-empty” variety. For them, any change that comes from without, that they haven’t initiated themselves or haven’t embraced from the start, brings out a host of negative emotions: fear, anger, aggression, cynicism, etc. There have been times when I found it difficult to be in the same room as them; the negative “vibes” were so powerful that it would make me, quite literally, ill. If change is inevitable, and if we are so programmed as to confront it with negativity, how difficult life must become! It’s not for me to judge, of course, but I find myself filled with a great deal of pity for those who confront change as if they’re defending the walls against a barbarian horde. In my specific circumstances, there’s been little I have been able to do other than include them in my prayers.

Our Franciscan charism leaves us no room for embracing the negative. In Chapter 2 of our Rule, we see this most explicitly: “Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, [we] should strive to bring joy and hope to others” Rule 2:19).  Article 26 of our Constitution moreover, specifically states, “Following the Gospel, Secular Franciscans…affirm their hope and their joy in living. They make a contribution to counter widespread distress and pessimism, preparing a better future.”  And then there’s the story in The Little Flowers where Francis illustrates for Brother Leo what would be “perfect joy.” Francis’ allegory is that of coming to a friary in the cold and snow of winter, only to be turned away, beaten, and much abused by the porter, who mistakes them for scoundrels. Enduring such pain and degradation patiently and humbly is, for Francis, “perfect joy,” because this is what Christ did for us. There can be no joy greater than to live as Christ lived, Francis teaches.

As in most things, I find that Francis sets a very high bar for me. I struggle daily to find joy in the challenges I face. Truthfully, I fail, more often than not. And yet, Francis won’t let me lay down in the mud and cold, feeling sorry for myself and angry at the world. I find his laughter and loving embrace pulling me from myself. What else can I do but get up, share his laughter, and keep going?

Peace and all good!!!