My last blog to you begins with many thank you's. Thank you's that don't come close to 'paying' for what they have done. To Mrs. Bickford and all the chaperone's on this trip. How can one even begin to express the gratitude that is fealt by so many. The word 'fealt' itself comes from the Latin 'fidelitas', meaning 'faithfulness'. A perfect description of those that have gone to serve others. Amazing actually, when you think about it. In this day and age when everything seems to center around the individual and how do I please myself, we at Gehlen have a group of students and adults at the most important time of the Church year, serving others. Others they don't even know. Tonight, with Fr. Ries and the priests in Mississippi, they will wash the feet of others. Do you think Christ would have done anything else? This is your Church. This is your faith. This is 'You'.
So you see, the many thanks you receive from me are muted by the very power of the night. The very power of the moment. The very power of who we are. Catholics, Christians, and people who care.
So thanks to all the chaperones. I am stunned by your love and dedication to those who have less. But, I know, deep in my heart I should have expected it.
To all you young people. I personally want to thank you for your commitment first to Honduras and now to Mississippi. You have done well - more than well. My only hope for you is that you will grow in this mission and return more deeply committed than when you left. That is the experience of our journey in this life. To use a sports metaphor, it is so easy in this culture to take our 'eyes of the ball'. To not see things clearly. To become complacent in our lives. When I was young I truly wish I had had the wonderful opportunities you have had to show your love and compassion for others. I remain always amazed at what young people can do when given the chance. You are and have been great representatives of yourselves, your families, and your school. I am sure that the people of Mississippi are a little better tonight because of your commitment.
One of my favorite Saints has always been St. Francis. My father's name was Francis and of course all of you know my brother's name is Francis and I was elated when our new Pope chose the name. Maybe you can already tell in the few blogs I have posted. In any case I wanted to give all of you a special message tonight - your last night serving those who have less. I have chosen four paragraphs from one of my favorite readings about St. Francis. I publish them for all of you tonight, knowing full well they will be read by Mrs. Bickford at your nightly Junta. They are taken out of context but I think you will get the message of what Francis was all about.
The bishop was very kind to Francis; he told him to return the money and said God would provide. That was all Francis needed to hear. He not only gave back the money but stripped off all his clothes -- the clothes his father had given him -- until he was wearing only a hair shirt. In front of the crowd that had gathered he said, "Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, 'Our Father who art in heaven.'" Wearing nothing but castoff rags, he went off into the freezing woods -- singing. And when robbers beat him later and took his clothes, he climbed out of the ditch and went off singing again. From then on Francis had nothing...and everything.
Slowly companions came to Francis, people who wanted to follow his life of sleeping in the open, begging for garbage to eat...and loving God. With companions, Francis knew he now had to have some kind of direction to this life so he opened the Bible in three places. He read the command to the rich young man to sell all his good and give to the poor, the order to the apostles to take nothing on their journey, and the demand to take up the cross daily. "Here is our rule," Francis said -- as simple, and as seemingly impossible, as that. He was going to do what no one thought possible any more -- live by the Gospel. Francis took these commands so literally that he made one brother run after the thief who stole his hood and offer him his robe!
Francis did not try to abolish poverty, he tried to make it holy. When his friars met someone poorer than they, they would eagerly rip off the sleeve of their habit to give to the person. They worked for all necessities and only begged if they had to. But Francis would not let them accept any money. He told them to treat coins as if they were pebbles in the road. When the bishop showed horror at the friars' hard life, Francis said, "If we had any possessions we should need weapons and laws to defend them." Possessing something was the death of love for Francis. Also, Francis reasoned, what could you do to a man who owns nothing? You can't starve a fasting man, you can't steal from someone who has no money, you can't ruin someone who hates prestige. They were truly free.
Francis was a man of action. His simplicity of life extended to ideas and deeds. If there was a simple way, no matter how impossible it seemed, Francis would take it. So when Francis wanted approval for his brotherhood, he went straight to Rome to see Pope Innocent III. You can imagine what the pope thought when this beggar approached him! As a matter of fact he threw Francis out. But when he had a dream that this tiny man in rags held up the tilting Lateran basilica, he quickly called Francis back and gave him permission to preach.
To all of you. Thanks for carrying into action all our words. St. Francis once said, 'Preach the Gospel everyday, use words if necessary.
Take Care and Godspeed on your travels Home.