Truth be told: Pope Francis delights me. And he challenges me. And he encourages me to go beyond my comfort zone – way beyond my comfort zone. When I read his homilies and addresses, I sense the Spirit not only moving, but shaking things up within me. And that can be scary (and a bit messy). But it is also very exciting!
That being said, his words in Assisi particularly touched my heart, challenged me, and supercharged my JOY. His address to the Poor Clares, which can be read in full here, was the address of a spiritual father who truly understands the motivation, desires, and challenges of his daughters.
He encourages all cloistered nuns to “have a great humanity, a humanity like that of Mother Church; human, understanding all things of life, being persons who are able to understand human problems, who are able to forgive, who are able to pray to The Lord for people.” This is not perhaps the first piece of advice that many would give to cloistered nuns, and yet it is advice that truly applies to the identity and challenges of those who live a contemplative hidden life. We are called to be “experts in humanity” so that we might live to the full our mission of intercession for the needs of all humanity. If by some cruel miracle, entering the cloister detached us from the struggles of humanity, then how would we really pray with COMPASSION for humanity? But such a cruel miracle is not imposed upon us when we embrace this vocation of love. In the silence and solitude, remaining ever near the bright Light, the cloistered nun experiences with a sensitive intensity the human condition.
Humble and human, willing to bend You are
Fashioned of flesh and the fire of life, You are
Not too proud to wear our skin
to know this weary world we’re in
Humble, humble Jesus
(from Audrey Assad’s ‘Humble’ – to put a plug in for her newly released CD “Fortunate Fall” – truly inspired and inspiring…each and every song!)
If Jesus is ‘not too proud to wear our skin’, then how can a cloistered nun shrink from fully embracing humanity, first her own…in imitation of the Word made Flesh. And then in this embrace, to spread wide her arms in prayer, to embrace all of humanity, as Jesus did on the Cross! The Pope goes on to say that when the nun is so identified in her humanity with the humanity of Jesus Christ, then this will produce a “human sanctity, great, beautiful, mature…the holiness of a mother.”
He goes on to warn cloistered nuns against being too spiritual. He tells the quip about St. Teresa’s reaction to one of her nuns who was over-spiritualizing everything. The ever practical Teresa says: “Give her a beefsteak!” Being overly-spiritual is not the equivalent of holiness. Authentic holiness is something other…or I should say, Someone Other. This is evident in the Gospels when we see Jesus tempted by the enemy, feeling compassion for the widow, weeping at the tomb of Lazarus, enjoying a meal with his friends at Bethany, turning over the tables in the Temple, being wearied by His apostles, experiencing hunger, fatigue, joy, sorrow, companionship, and so on.
So how do cloistered nuns become these “experts in humanity.” I believe our Holy Father gave us a hint when he says: “Today during Mass, speaking of the Cross, I said that Francis had contemplated Him with OPEN EYES, with OPEN WOUNDS, with the FLOWING BLOOD. And this is your contemplation: reality – the reality of the wounds of Jesus Christ.”
In these words, I find an invitation to view (to live) reality with open eyes, to view (to live) our human reality through the Open Wounds of Christ. To many this may seem to be an alternate reality but it is, I believe, the most authentic reality. We are so often tempted to see the hopelessness of fallen humanity, when we gaze on it through the gaping wounds of sin. But that isn’t the fullest sense of reality, is it? For we have been redeemed, and at such a cost. The most genuine reality is when, united to Christ, we gaze on humanity through His open wounds, with eyes wide open! – not squinting from fear or repulsion, but taking it all through the eyes of Him Who took on our humanity to save us and to set us free.
From the perspective of this reality, true joy is received. And, like Pope Francis exhorts us, then we can smile not the with the smile of the ‘flight attendant’, but rather “smiling from the heart.” Smiling from a heart that has tasted the wine of humanity and is filled with hope. Smiling from a heart that has tasted the goodness of The Lord…in prayer, in compassionate intercession, in the joys and sufferings of community life, and yes…in a delicious steak!