Our fraternity is reading A Walk With St. Francis: 18 Days Of Readings And Reflections, by Cricket Aull OFS. Two of our members attended a retreat with Ms. Aull last spring and came away very impressed by her passion, wisdom, and spirituality. We decided to use her book for our monthly ongoing formation work, despite the fact that she wrote the book to be used daily for personal reflection between the Feast of the Stigmata to the Feast of St. Francis (9/17-10/4).
We generally devote an hour to an hour-and-a-half for our ongoing formation work; reading & reflecting on the whole book in a single month would fill up many such hours. Instead, we are reading the book using the five sections Ms. Aull separated the eighteen days into, one section each month: “A Walk With Francis—An Introduction” (and Day 1), For Our Love Of God” (Days 2-5), “For Love Of Poverty” (Days 6-9), “For Love Of The Cross” (Days 10-13), and “For Imitation Of Christ” (Days 14-18).
Our discussions in October and November on the first five reflections were inspired, and I mean that both figuratively and literally. The insights and depth of spiritual understanding that our small group shares with one-another is truly a gift, so I know the Holy Spirit is at work with us. Two examples will have to suffice because these two short discussions could inspire whole books in themselves.
Discussing “Day 1: The Stigmata Of St. Francis” enriches our understanding of the ways in which our own wounds bring us closer to God. Christ’s wounded body on the cross is both a lesson in and image of God’s love for each of us. Christ suffering sanctified suffering. He not only understands but also feels our suffering because he knows what human suffering is. The fact that he endured the cross out of love for us, and that he passed through that woundedness into the fuller, richer, holier life of the Resurrection teaches us how to bear our own wounds. Our injured selves (for life inevitably brings suffering with it) are pathways through which we experience God’s love—provided, of course, that we use our hurts as ways of opening ourselves to Him. “But when we unite our places of pain to Christ, there is comfort and purpose. And when we offer them to the Lord for His holy work, there is healing” (Aull 4)
We also focused “Day 2: Seeking Solitude,” and our conversation wound up touching on days 3 and 4 also (we ran out of time before we could get to Day 5). We were particularly drawn to the imagery of Francis going from solitude into the world and the world into solitude. (Sounds a lot like “from Gospel to Life and from Life to Gospel, our Secular Franciscan calling, doesn’t it?!) I’ve long felt that this is one of the great challenges of being a Secular Franciscan, or an oblate, lay brother/sister, or third order member of our brother & sister orders. Each of us must find our own Mount Alverna to retreat to each day so that we can live our daily lives in service to others and thereby Our Lord. Without the benefits of living in community, and with the pressures of work and family, this seems to be a ongoing but necessary challenge for us. One of our members, Paula, put it beautifully. She reminded us of how boats are used in the gospels. There are times when the boats are pulled ashore so that nets can be repaired, and then the boats go out into the water so the nets can be cast. We have to pull our personal “boats” ashore regularly for the healing that happens in the solitude of prayer and contemplation. Doing so strengthens us for the tasks of sharing God’s love—casting our nets, as it were—in the everyday world. Having spent so many years laboring at my several careers, I find this image especially meaningful.
I intend to post again as both I and the fraternity Walk With St. Francis. The spiritual path that Francis and Clare showed us is both challenging and beautiful. Ms. Aull’s book is an inspiring (in-spiriting) way of understand our journey.
Peace and all good!