Can there be Joy in the midst of Anxiety?

I’m waiting anxiously, or should I say excitedly, to participate in a webinar JOYFUL WITNESS IN THE SPIRIT OF FRANCIS AND CLARE OF ASSISI.   The webinar promo reads, “St Francis and Clare of Assisi, by their words and deeds encouraged Christians to live out the belief that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirt.  In fact, the core of Franciscan spirituality claims that the reality of God’s divine love enables us to radiate joyful optimism and sacrificial generosity.” 

Toni’s St Francis

We know that Franciscan spirituality is not unknown in South Africa as there are Franciscan priests, religious sisters and brothers and a 3rd order of Lay Franciscans. And most Catholics and many others know and revere St Francis. Of course, our Cardinal Napier, some bishops and archbishops too belong to the Franciscan family.  But Francis and Clare as I understand were not much into accepting the status quo and institutionalization in church and society. According to Fr Paddy Noonan in his book St Francis UNCENSORED they were rebels in their day, in their families and for renewal in the Church, rebels for God, for creation, for the poor for peace, even as they suffered exuding love and joy.

For many years I have been a fan of St Francis and his powerful canticle of praise to God, the Canticle of the Creatures. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ broadened my insights and helped me discover greater relevance and depth.

The canticle begins as a hymn of praise to God by the elements of creation:  Brother sun, Sister moon, Brother fire, Sister water and Mother earth. 

It then continues   ”Praised be you, my Lord, for those who give pardon for love of you and bear infirmity and tribulation, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.”

 “Be praised my Lord, through our sister bodily death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin!  Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.”   

All these aspects do have special significance. So much so that the MARFAM 2020 family theme OUR WORLD, A FAMILY OF FAMILIES is taking me, and maybe some of our readers too, on a journey of discovery as we link the human family and the family of nature.  Creation theology and spirituality does more than link them, I believe, but situates the human family in the midst of creation, rather than above the other aspects.  Pope Francis explains that today’s thinking is not to have “dominion over” but rather to belong to and be part of, co-responsible, with whatever extra capabilities we have.  And today too we ask ourselves, “what have we done to creation?” 

But the coronavirus is not quite my focus. August is Women’s month in South Africa and for us a month to focus on “Sexuality as a Family Gift.”   There are some similarities here to the larger creation story in Genesis.   Men should not have dominion over women and abuse them the way humankind has abused nature.  Men and Women together should be co-responsible, for our families, for our own lives, for creation and in the Church too.  

Without focusing specifically on sexuality but on humanity in general, those are some of the things that Francis and Clare stood for, giving the Joyful Witness which surely is something worthwhile for every person to aspire to.    It is not enough for us in our concern and anxiety to be carrying placards proclaiming “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” in combating gender-based violence.  Greater efforts should go into “MAKE ME A CHANNEL OF OUR PEACE” and make it applicable to the women and the men so as to become joyful witnesses.  Only then will it be enough.   

So let us pray to Francis and Clare – whose feastday was celebrated on 9 August – to show us the way. And on Sunday the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, let us pray “MARY, QUEEN ASSUMED INTO HEAVEN, PATRONESS OF SOUTH AFRICA PRAY FOR US, PRAY FOR ALL WOMEN AND MEN, PRAY FOR ALL CHILDREN, ALL FAMILIES, TO BECOME JOYFUL WITNESSES IN OUR LIVES.


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