When I come back from Ecuador and people ask me how it is, I usually have a hard time explaining it. I start thinking of different experiences, thinking to myself, maybe I could share some of this or start with that. I think of the people, the lifestyle, the environment, and I don’t know where to begin. I usually just say, “It’s a different world.” And they wonder why in the world do I go – literally.
The Franciscans are very active in Ecuador, and the Franciscan Missions are the ones who work with the dioceses in the poorest areas to help them build churches. St. Francis always went to the places that were a different world. He always went to the places that most people would never want to go, and he did the things that most people would never want to do. Now, I’ve heard a lot said about who Francis is and what he was like. On one end of the spectrum, some people say he was a nature lover. They hear about the story of Francis stopping in the middle of a road to pick up a worm and place him on the side of the road out of harm’s way. Some people see him from the other side, as an ascetic self-abuser who believed that holiness is eating ashes on our bread for a living. Sometimes he’s confusing, like when he says that every Christian is called to be a mother and brother of Jesus.
Why? Well, when Francis saved the little worm with such affection, he was thinking of Jesus on the Cross. The psalm that Jesus prayed on the Cross has the line, But I am a worm, and no man. (Ps 22) When Francis ate the ashes on his bread, he was thinking of Jesus in the desert, because a great penance psalm, one that Jesus would have prayed when he was alone and wrestling with his insides in the desert, has the line, For I have eaten ashes like bread. (Ps 102) And when he talked about being a mother and brother to Jesus, he was only echoing the words of Jesus in His public ministry when He said, “My mother and brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Lk 8:21)
Francis was seeing Jesus Christ in everything and everyone, because he is a lover of Jesus Christ, He is everything to him. The only way to understand him and what he did is to begin to love like him. The only way to understand him is to follow him. Without that, he’s a frustrating enigma.
On the little envelope that I receive from the Franciscan Missions, there is a quote about St. Francis. Just the other day, I really noticed it. It says, “He took the time and discovered the joy of seeing Jesus Christ in everyone and everything.”
Do you have the time? Do you want the joy?
Because it’s a different world.