Living the Great Commandments

As part of our morning prayer as a community of Friars, we read the names aloud for the friars who passed away on the given day. This weekend marks the 6th anniversary of the passing of one of the true characters and legends of our Franciscan province. Brother Juniper Capece was a friar for 60 years, was our provincial tailor, and was the keeper of many of the stories of the friars – you know, the ones that never get written down, but bring everyone to tears because we are laughing so hard.

Fr. Zack and I lived with Br. Juniper for 5 years.  And I suspect everyone of our friars have worn one of the Franciscan habits that Br. Juniper made.  Even if we have not always been kind to his handiwork – Juniper was always kind to us.  On a rough day, or a difficult spot of time, you could always go down into the basement and find Juniper, pipe out one corner of his mouth, working away at his tailoring craft.  He always had time for you and always had a story of the occasion.

One the stories Juniper told about himself occurred when he had only been with the friars a couple of years. The was another friar, a few years older than Juniper that decided he did not like Juniper. And so he took every opportunity to harass and bother Junie – until there came the day he crossed the line.  The details aren’t import.  What is memorable is the chase scene. It started in the friar chapel, included a vault over the communion rail, a sprint through the sacristy, continuing on through the courtyard, the library, and the labyrinth of the hallways of this huge friary.  The last scene is captured in the larger than life tales that inhabit the memory of an organization.

Juniper had caught up with the other friar and was holding him by his ankles, holding him outside a 2nd story window. The Friar Guardian – the priest in charge – is yelling up to Juniper not to drop his brother in Christ. And the scene is replete with language that may be repeated in church or polite company.

In Brother Juniper’s telling, the story continues past that one moment frozen in time to cover a lifetime as a friar.  Juniper was assigned to live in the same house with the other friar on many occasions.  The other friar had serious medical issues for most of his 20 years with the Franciscans. Juniper was the one who often took him to doctor’s appointments, ran to the pharmacy to get medications, made sure he had what he needed if he was too sick do errands.  When the other brother was dying, Juniper was there with him on the journey and with him when he passed from this mortal coil to the next life.

But don’t get too mushy about the story.  Their life together did not make them best friends.  Juniper would tell you that the man was still a …… ok, so I can’t repeat Juniper’s colorful description, but at this point in telling the story, Juniper would inevitably re-light his pipe, lean back in the chair, and say, “Truthfully, I never liked the guy.  But I loved him.”

In an age when the word ‘love’ is greatly misused and abused, it is important to remember that the primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment. Clearly Juniper was not gushing with affection for his Franciscan brother, but Juniper loved him

Hear, O Israel! … You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” “….. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Warm feelings of gratitude may fill our consciousness as we consider all that God has done for us, but it is not warm feelings that this Gospel demands of us, but rather to imitate God’s stubborn, unwavering commitment to his people

  • To rescue us even when we worshiped the golden calf and all the other ways we have strayed from God care and protection.
  • And when it was clear that more was needed, to send his only Son that we might be redeemed

The whole story of Scripture is a story of God’s stubborn, unwavering commitment to us.  And that is what is asked of us

  • To know we are loved by God even on the days we do not feel God close, because God is committed to us
  • To imitate the same stubborn, unwavering love of God, our neighbors and even our enemies,

Brother Juniper was a living example of that unwavering commitment to God, to his brother friars, and to all he encountered.  He may not have liked you, but you never doubted he loved you.

There is no other commandment greater than these.

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