Icons of Goodness

We cannot underestimate the importance of relationships and how interdependent we are on each other. For St. Francis of Assisi prayers are not an escape from the world but an entrance into it. As St. Francis grew in relationship with God during prolonged periods of solitude and prayer his growing awareness of God’s presence with himself gave him a new way to look at the world around him and helped him see God’s presence within others. Because he had been touched and embraced by God’s diffusive and self-giving love Francis himself had no choice but to become more loving to everyone he encountered.

In time St. Francis came to see the poor and the outcasts of his society as icons or manifestations of God’s goodness. The growing awareness of God’s presence within all creation and especially within all humanity reached its apex when the saint embraced and kissed a leper. The self-humbling kiss symbolized God’s union with humanity in Christ when the Word became flesh. For Francis, the Incarnation gave birth to compassion which enabled him to see in the rotting flesh of a leper the self-giving love of God.

As I made my humble little films on global and domestic poverty, I learned to see the poor and the marginalized, the alcoholic and the drug addict, the mentally ill and the homeless not as objects of pity and charity but as brothers and sisters with whom I’m intimately related. The longer I walk with the poor – and with Jesus – the more I see the need to put to death the idea of my own self-sufficiency. To think of myself as separate from God and all of creation, including the poor, is an illusion.

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