About ten years ago I was serving as Pastor at Sacred Heart in Tampa. I had been in Tampa for six years and had no aspiration or desire to be elsewhere. It was the year that Pope Francis was elected. The joke in the parish office was that I was waiting for a call from Rome telling me that I have been appointed Papal Household Swim Coach. Oddly enough, it was only a few weeks after the election when the parish telephone rang – and on the other end was a call from Rome. It wasn’t an offer to be swim coach, but rather it was the Minister General of the Franciscan Order worldwide asking me to consider a new job. It was not a pastoral job, but a full time job more akin to running a business – and in a place where people wear sweaters even in summer. As a vowed Franciscan it was something I had to consider and take into prayer.
And then came the gospel for this week.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
As a Franciscan when you first receive the brown habit, you stretch out your arms, and a senior friar dresses you, and wraps around you the knotted white cord. The cord that holds the knots symbolizing the three vows:
- poverty (to live without grasping anything of one’s own so that your hands are free to give the things of this life to others)
- chastity (to live celibately in life in order that you may give your life in service to others)
- obedience (from the Latin obidere to listen through to hear the call of God through the call of Franciscan order as to when, where, and how, to live the life)
As Brother Juniper Capece always told us…. It’s the vow of obedience that sneaks up on you. It is because you vowed to wear the cord knowing that someone else holds the other end.
Everyone of us wears such cords – some visible, some not. Many of you can look at your wedding rings and understand when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands – and you exchanged rings and pledged your lives to each other.
When you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands – to embrace you children. To pick them up, to lead them to guide them, sometimes to command them, and always to love them.
In any number of ways and circumstances of life, we wear the cords of obedience. In our professions, in personal commitments, in school, in play, and most walks of life. We hold onto one end of the cord – and there is another or a community holding the other end.
And always there is God
Pulling our cords to call us to an everyday life of faith, hope and love – and above all love.
Tugging our cords to call us to worship, to the waters of Baptism, to the Eucharistic table, to Confirmation to be sealed in the gifts of the Spirit, to be reconciled in the Sacraments of Confession.
Tugging our cords to call us to action, to live out our profession of faith. “I believe….” And that belief has implications. It is as Pope Francis once tweeted: “Let us not forget: if we are to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, our lives must bear witness to what we preach.”
The phone call from Rome gave me pause, led me to consider the very cord I wear. The cord upon which I feel the tug of my Franciscan life, the bonds of my family, and the commitment to serve all of you. All of whom I am called to obdiere – to listen and discern. Who can make overlapping and conflicting calls to service. Who can lead me to places I do not want to go – and yet in that same movement lead me to places that are filled with faith, hope and love – above all love.
A simple few lines in a Gospel, lines often overlooked. A simple telephone call.
A tug on the cord. But this was a story of one tug on my cord leading me to think about who is on the other end – and to be grateful and humbled.
What about the cord or cords of your life?
Hard question, huh? All the really good questions usually are.
May you be blessed with the insight and wisdom of God as you ponder the cords of your life.