LITTLE FLOWERS OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI, Chapter 38

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HOW IT WAS REVEALED TO ST FRANCIS THAT BROTHER ELIAS WAS DAMNED AND WAS TO DIE OUT OF THE ORDER; AND HOW AT THE DESIRE OF THE SAID BROTHER, HE PRAYED TO CHRIST FOR HIM, AND HOW HIS PRAYER WAS GRANTED

It's interesting to me that the prayer for Brother Elias' salvation was pronounced answered, and Brother Francis was relieved to learn that brother Elias would be saved, before the later events which caused him to be excommunicated. God is not bound by the limitations of time and space as we are.

This story touches on issues related to the authority of the church. There are strong emotions attached to some interpretations of these issues, which contributed to the situations that led up to the Reformation and continue to divide us. I'm not exactly inviting us to open that can of worms here, but I want to beg that we respect the beliefs of those we might disagree with if anyone does want to say something about these things. This is an area about which I have personally found it difficult to think clearly. On the one hand, Christians are to all be one; on the other, we're not to be swayed by every wind of doctrine.

This flowers story contains an example of one way the flowers stories are very similar to the gospel stories: they both give reference to the rulers of the age in which they occured, placing them historically in time and place. They're not to be taken as having happened "once upon a time," they're to be read as narrations of actual historic events.

Power

Remember our encounter with Brother Elias in Chapter 4 where he was the ruling superior of a monastery. There he had encountered an angel but did not recognize him. In that story, the angel represented God’s grace freely given to us in God’s own timing. For Brother Elias, it was his time when the power of his office had captured his heart. The rules of the order are the mechanisms that he used to control his little part of the universe. We all know little iron egos whose responsibilities are converted into strings of physical attachments wherein power lies. In his test with the angel, Brother Elias failed.

This chapter takes up the story a while later. Unfortunately, Brother Elias is still enamored with power. “For Frederick, King of Sicily, having rebelled against the Church, was excommunicated by the Pope, with all those who gave him aid or counsel. Brother Elias being looked upon as one of the most learned men in the world, King Frederick sent for him, wishing to see him. He obeyed the summons.”

The allure to counsel a king was just too great, so Elias ignored the command of his superior, in this case the Pope. To be a Franciscan, one must take vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. The breaking of a vow is grounds for expulsion from the order, and Brother Elias knew this. Yet the allure of power drew him on.

In our own lives, are we also drawn by the allure of power or the powerful? Who are the famous among us, if not the powerful? Is the power to control our own souls, to make good use of our wills of paramount concern?

Pax,
John Ignatius of the Signature of God, OCDS




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