Live Love

We live in a world of stark inequality and injustice. So did Jesus. Jesus had a deep concern for those who suffered and were marginalized. So should we. For the follower of Jesus, compassion is not an option; it’s an obligation…and a sign our lives have been transformed into the healing presence of Christ.

As I studied the lives of the saints, I was drawn more to those saints who lives reflected a love of both prayer and the poor. Poverty and prayer, for me, are the perfect match, and the perfect path to God. I think St. Francis of Assisi came to see clearly that the fundamental principle of the Gospel requires that the weakest and least presentable people are indispensable to the Church, that the followers of Christ must be in communion with the poor and must be willing to love our enemies. Each of us is wounded in some way; each of us is an enemy. We need each other, and we need God. On his life’s journey, St. Francis of Assisi took his own path. He made mistakes; and some of his actions were rather irrational. Some of his ideas were outrageous. One can easily imagine him as difficult to be with, at times being downright ornery. But no matter his mood, no matter what people thought of him, he kept his focus on God. This is our challenge.

St. Francis said the road to God is straight and narrow: the road is poverty and prayer. Far too often, I go to God with my hands full…and ask for more. Francis was willing to go to God with empty hands. For him, the only thing that really mattered was utter trust in God, and his adult life was a continual witness to the realization that total trust cannot exist until we have lost all self-trust and are rooted in poverty. The deepest levels of self-denial which St. Francis reached present us with a huge gap in comparison to our feeble efforts at approaching perfect trust in God. What is it that keeps me from total surrender into the loving embrace of God? I know what God seeks, yet I hesitate. I know God loves me, and this love, I realize, does not spring from a reluctant heart; God stands always willing and waiting to love us even more deeply…yet we hesitate in accepting God’s love out of fear of losing ourselves and being buried in God.

The only way to overcome this fear and grow in trust in and love of God is through a serious commitment to prayer. In poverty, St. Francis found a way into prayer. Nothing was more important to him than spending time in prayer. Prayer is about building a relationship with the source of Love. For St. Francis, prayer was the way to learn how to live love.

I’ve been walking in the footsteps of St. Francis for nearly twenty years, and I’m only now beginning to see, albeit dimly, the connection Francis made between poverty and prayer. Contemplation leads to communion, communion with God, communion with each other and all creation. Contemplation leads to action, action that manifests and makes real God’s mercy and compassion. Contemplation and poverty are natural partners. Contemplation helps us to see, to see both inside us and to see around us. Our contemplative vision improves as our lives become more simplified. Our lives are cluttered with so much stuff, and we are so easily distracted by so many things, that our spiritual vision is severely diminished.

We live in a thick fog of materialism and escapism. Poverty and simplicity helps us see what is important, helps us see another’s need, helps us see injustice and suffering, helps us see the need to be free from all attachments that limit our freedom and ability to love. We strive to amass wealth, but true wealth resides in creating fraternity. The world is divided into two camps: the rich and the poor. And between those two camps there is no communication, no shared life, no communion. The rich and the poor are strangers, and their mutual isolation gives birth to misunderstanding and mistrust. And the gap between the rich and the poor grows wider and deeper by the hour. Jesus condemned the unnatural and unjust division between the rich and the poor, because the division causes pride, envy, jealousy, self-centeredness and loneliness. The Kingdom of God, Jesus tells us, is about unity, reconciliation, harmony, peace and love.

Contemplation and communion leads to action, calls us to the margins of society, to the American urban jungles of deprivation, crime and violence, to the dark corners around the world, where people live in massive slums of overwhelming need clinging to life without clean water or electricity and barely enough food for survival. In these deprived places, we not only give life, but life is also given to us. It is here we see for the first time the oneness that has always been there, though obscured by our blindness.

Through contemplation we learn to see. Through communion we learn to share. Through action we learn to love. Be still. Know God. Live love.


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