“Brother Sun, Sister Moon I seldom see you seldom hear your tune. Preoccupied with selfish misery. Brother Wind and Sister Air open my eyes to visions pure and fair. That I may see the glory around me. I am God’s creature, of Him I am part. I feel His love awakening my heart. Brother Sun and Sister Moon I now do see you, I can hear your tune. So much in love with all that I survey.” These words are the lyrics by Donovan that are part of the soundtrack for the 1970’s movie, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” that is based on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. These lyrics beautifully and simply capture the spirituality of this great saint as they reflect the sentiments found in his Canticle of the Sun.
St. Francis reminds us that the essence and beauty of God emanate from within God’s creation and are not imposed upon it. All created things are mirrors of the Divine that reflect back to the viewer the life and love that is its Source. The author of the Book of Deuteronomy provides a glimpse of this as well when he discusses the “command of the Lord.” “It is something very near to you,” the author says, “already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” The very essence of God, his command, is already within us. It is not our task to “put it there” or “welcome it in” as it exists there already. This is a profound reality to ponder and the primary reason Jesus is so insistent that we keep love of God, neighbor, and self-bound together as one. They cannot be separated because they are essentially and intentionally the same.
We listen to this weekend’s Gospel once again that details Jesus’ commandment on love. This is not a new teaching by any stretch. However, it is given a new twist when love of neighbor is elevated to the same status as love of God. The parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that God is the master reverser of roles! Those hearing this story for the first time would have certainly been caught off guard when they heard that the Samaritan is the hero. Those whom we least expect are the ones who often do the will of God the most. Saint or sinner we all receive the same abundance of God’s mercy. God’s mercy, as with God’s love, is at the core of who we are. We cannot merit it, increase it or escape it. It is simply there.
All of creation is on fire with God’s presence. St. Francis knew this so very well. It is for this reason that he shared such an intimate connection with all people and things and shared with them a familiar relationship. It was his firm conviction in and knowledge of God’s love within that gave him the courage to persevere, a reason to hope, a cause for faith and an inexhaustible ability to love. Francis knew exactly who his neighbor was and responded without hesitation.
We do not find our neighbors in philosophies and theories. Our neighbor is found in the reality of persons or things that place themselves before us. It is not about “what do we collectively do about immigration in our country” but rather, how do we respond to the person right in front of us who is seeking asylum, being held in unthinkable environs, hurting, crying, sick and hungry. Addresses these realities will then lead us to a collective response. These are our neighbors. It is not about “what do we do about the problem of homelessness” as valid as that question is. Tending to our neighbor is about what we do to the homeless person who is right before us. How can we be, in the best way possible, a neighbor to him or her? The questions we ask about situations that involve our neighbor whether it be homelessness, immigration, sustainable work, human dignity and the like must always be framed in light of what is best for them, not what benefits the one with the power to provide a proper response. This is the only way that barriers preventing proper and appropriate responses can be removed.
Our neighbor is found as life unfolds for us, not in theories. As good as theories are for understanding and moving through our difficulties, they can also prevent us from actually dealing with the reality before us. They can even fool us into thinking that we are somehow off the hook of responding.
Our neighbor’s face is different for each one of us depending upon our station in life. It can be our family members, coworkers, bosses, pastors, associates, people living on our street, people on the road, and the folks in the supermarket with us, those who want to hurt us, our enemies and those who think they can control us. They are all our neighbor. Describe your neighbor’s face yesterday. Who was she? Who has been your neighbor today? What do they look like? What is going on in their lives? Better yet, how did you respond to them?
The mistake many people make is that as important as loving our neighbor really is to accomplishing God’s work, it cannot stop there. Stopping there leads us to well camouflaged form of relativism that has the Golden Rule at its base and thus appears acceptable. The task of discipleship is not just about bringing “love” to my neighbor both in thought, word and deed but in seeing the Love that is at their Source and falling in love with the Author of Love God himself. This relationship that I then develop with God becomes my anchor and benchmark. In this way, we have the litmus test we need for making sure that we are focused and on track with all of our relationships.
God’s Word as it is revealed through Sacred Scripture and safeguarded in the teachings of the Church are the ways our relationship with God’s command stays fresh and accessible. Doing loving deeds for people isn’t enough nor is living life as if there are no guidelines, benchmarks or common goals to achieve. Living God’s commandment does not find its expression in an “if it feels good do it” or “if it’s where I am accept it” philosophy of life. It is quite the contrary. God has some definite ideas in mind for us and for the world. We need to figure out what those are all the while keeping faithful to both Scripture and Tradition that is the foundation of our faith. The beatitudes, justice and mercy are all essential components.
All that being said, loving our neighbor is not meant to be easy. It is messy, confusing, conflicting, sticky, and uncertain. What we often discern to be the best for the person in front of us may not actually be what is most beneficial as the end of the day. We bring ourselves dimly through life, relying solely on the light of Christ to enlighten our way. The psalmist is correct again! “Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.” When we need guidance, support and direction the Lord and the community of the church are always there. May we always listen to new and more effective ways we can listen and respond to the needs of our neighbor! St. Francis of Assisi be our inspiration and our guide!
Most high, all powerful, all good, Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor and all blessing.
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made, and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
and light you give us through him.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
in the heavens you have make them, bright and precious and fair.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water, so useful, lowly, precious and pure.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten up the night.
How beautiful is he, how gay! Full of power and strength.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace. By you, Most High, they will be crowned.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death, from who embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those She finds doing your will! The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks, and serve him with great humility.
(Canticle of Brother Sun attributed to St. Francis of Assisi)