LITTLE FLOWERS OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI, CHAPTER V
HOW THE HOLY BROTHER BERNARD OF ASSISI WAS SENT BY ST FRANCIS TO
BOLOGNA AND HOW HE FOUNDED A CONVENT THERE
The lesson of this chapter seems to me to be pretty clearly humility. Brother Bernard gives us an excellent example, and even Jesus was humble, in not demanding respect and enforcing obedience. I have a couple more stories I'd like to share here about humility, if I can state them briefly enough.
The first one is about a Japanese Buddhist monk. I ran accross it in the Naganuma Readers, when I was studying Japanese, while I was in the U. S. army in Japan. This monk was walking on a long journey, and came upon a situation where people had to take a very dangerous path, along a narrow ledge on a cliff face to get around some mountain. The monk decided that it would be a great improvement in people's lives if he could make a tunnel through the mountain to give them a shorter and safer way to get to the other side of the mountain. So, he just started digging the tunnel. I don't remember if the story mentioned how he got the tools, but it took a long time and at first it seemed so futile that people just laughted at him. But eventually, they even wondered if he was crazy, children threw stones at him, lots of parallels here with Saint Bernard's situation, as I think about it. At a later point, people noticed he was really making progress, and they began to help. some would provide food and water, some would join in the digging. But eventually they got discouraged, and the monk was working on it alone again. Eventually, he did complete the tunnel, and just continued on his original journey. The end. It's about humility, but it's also about audacity. Humility doesn't mean thinking we're worthless and of no account. It just means we don't put ourselves first in our decisions of what's important. Jesus tells a story about building a tower, saying we should count the cost. Saint Bernard and this monk counted the cost and felt it was worth it.
The other story this chapter reminded me of is about an incident on a commuter train. I was on the train, sitting and reading - my Bible, I think, if so, it would have been relevant - when someone accosted me with one of the usual soul winning questions. This was a long time ago, I'm not sure which question. Did I know I was saved? Did I know Jesus? One of that kind of question. Now I am pretty sure, if it wasn't the Bible, it was maybe one of the church fathers or some more modern book about the Christian life that I was reading. I think I answered his question correctly. By that I mean honestly and in a way that showed that I knew the point he wanted to teach in asking the question, but I don't think he noticed that, and at one point I told him that I appreciated what he was saying, but I valued my time on that train as an opportunity to read what I was reading, which I showed him and talked about a little. I don't know how he picked me to start talking to, but apparently he felt that I couldn't have been sincere about wanting to read that because he could tell by the way I looked somehow, or he thought that somehow God had told him that I needed him to talk to me, I don't know what was going through his mind at this point. Eventually, the operator - this was the Light Rail in San Jose, CA, it's like a streetcar in a way, going through the city on city streets, and I was in one of the first rows of seats behind the operator's compartment - the operator told him to stop bothering me. He said that she, the operator, probably needed to hear this, too. He got off at my stop with me, too, and followed along still preaching to me. ... I think the phrase, "They sought after shame and contempt" was what reminded me of this incident. I think many people are doing things that are shameful and contemptible, and rejoicing because they think that the contempt they are experiencing is "because of Jesus." There comes a point where proclaiming the Gospel, soul winning, and witnessing about God is doing in our lives goes too far in a direction towards religious persecution, or more generally, infringing on the rights of others. I think seeking contempt means, more accurately, but less forcefully expressed, not seeking to avoid the contempt that comes from those who don't want to hear the gospel. Before we rejoice in receiving contempt, we should prayerfully review whether we are accurately proclaiming, by our lives as well as our words and conscious efforts, the gospel, and proclaiming it in true love and humility.