A few weeks ago, the friars in our community had a House Chapter, a regular meeting where we discuss fraternal or spiritual issues to grow closer and build up the fraternity. The topic was on fraternal correction: how we do lovingly approach a brother when issues arise.

Overall, it was a fantastic meeting that showed how mature every member of my house is (not always the case…) One brother brought up a story that has stuck with me for weeks. He shared how here was a friar in one house who no one could stand. He was annoying to be around, self-centered, and just problematic to live with. Finally, the brothers got together and requested the he be transferred to another house. In many ways, this part of the story is sadly not uncommon; sometimes, guys just don’t get along. No, what was striking about it was how that brother reacted. Shocked and hurt, he could only respond, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me I was difficult to live with?”

So often, we are blind to our own weaknesses. Whether it’s because they’re difficult to spot or simply because we don’t want to see them, others are always better equipped to point out those areas within us that need the most growth. Without a community around us who is mature (and loving) enough to step in a correct us, to point out our blindspots when we can’t see them, we will go through life hurting and annoying others without a care in the world.

I’m not sure about you, but ignorance is not bliss.

For so many of us, it is not that “we don’t know what we don’t know,” it’s that “we don’t even know THAT we don’t know.” We are completely oblivious (or completely deny) that there is even anything in us that needs to change.

And so before we walk away thinking that this reflection is all about others and how we need to fix them, let me bring it back to our poor brother. He was most certainly blind to things that caused trouble for him in his community, and no one can outright fault him for not seeing what he could not see, but it is not entirely up to others to take responsibility for our behavior. Knowing, of course, that we ALL have blindspots—that we all have failings we cannot see, that we all have rough edges that do not reflect the kingdom of God—it is most certainly our responsibility to have the humility to accept this in ourselves and the courage to do something about it.

How we go about that seemingly impossible process… is the topic of this week’s video.

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How many people made New Year’s resolutions this year? How many have already dropped them? My guess is that very few people reading today are still committed to something they made at the beginning of the year, mostly because the vast majority of us don’t even bother trying anymore! We’ve failed so many times, what’s the point of coming up with something?

Our readings this past weekend tell us why: because we are called to conversion each and every day. The prophet Jonah goes through Nineveh preaching repentence, reminding us that we need to change, and more importantly, that we can change. St. Paul tells us that the time for change is not tomorrow or some day in the future, but now. Now is the time for the coming of the kingdom. And our Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, shows us the way: we are to leave behind what hold us back and follow him.

So why don’t we? Why are we so bad at coming up with and sticking to new ways of living? I would like to suggest three things we do wrong and three ways to act differently.

1. We don’t even show up

We live by an interesting all-or-nothing attitude sometimes. We think that unless we are 100% committed to something, unless we are passionate, focused, and excited about doing something, we’re just going through the motions and cheating ourselves. If we’re not going to commit, why do anything at all, right?

Yeah… except that’s sort of ridiculous. Can you imagine if we only did the things we wanted to do, only the things that we had passion for? My guess is that we wouldn’t have friends, a family, or a job, because each of those things require that we show up even when we don’t want to. As terrible as it sounds, showing up and doing the right thing, even for the wrong reason, is still better than not showing up at all! Life is made by those who show up, not by those who don’t.

In making good habits in the new year, the biggest mistake we make is letting how we feel about something dictate how committed we are to it. Our motivation is our inspiration/passion/emotion rather than the goodness of the act itself. If prayer is our goal, going to prayer, even when we don’t want to, even when we’re not feeling anything, even when we don’t “get anything out of it,” is still better than not going at all. It may not feel authentic at first, but with time and consistency, it will become a habit. Staying home is not going to make us better at prayer; only showing up will do that.

2. We think only about ourselves

How many of our resolutions have only to do with us? “I want to lose 10 pounds.” “I want to eat healthier.” “I want to read more.” It’s all about “I.” We put the emphasis on ourselves, saying that no one else can do it for us, and we’re only cheating ourselves if we don’t follow through.

But there’s another side to this: we’re only benefiting ourselves if we succeed. There is no sense of community, connectedness, responsibility. Rise or fall, our actions affect us. And if I’m not hurting anyone else, it’s easy to let resolutions slide and never actually change.

But what if our goal was something that could benefit others if we succeed and hurt others if we fail? What if our New Year’s resolution was community-minded or even Christ-minded? My guess is that we would have a little extra motivation. My guess is that we would feel more committed to what we were doing.

In picking habits, we need to move away from ourselves and move towards Jesus. What should we be doing that Jesus wants us to do? What did Jesus do himself and how do we become more “Christ-like”? When we go to pray, when we read about his life, death, and resurrection… that’s when we find the things that we need to change and the motivation to stick to them.

3. We have no trust or patience in God

So often we expect to reach the end of our conversion on the first day. We go to the gym for a week and wonder why we don’t have six-pack abs. We think that just because we set our hearts on Jesus that our lives will all-of-the-sudden be sinless and perfect. And when we don’t see immediate results, it is very easy to get discouraged and give up.

But here’s the thing: conversion takes time. We can’t be today what only tomorrow will bring. We can’t reach the end without running the race, putting in work, and taking our time.

And here’s another, more important thing: conversion is ultimately up to the work of God. If all we do is trust in ourselves and build everything on the foundation our of own strength, we’re going to fail every time. We are simply not good enough in ourselves to overcome sin. We are not strong enough to overcome human weakness in ourselves. It is only God who can truly effect something new in us. It is only God who has the power to conquer sin, to give strength.

We may have setbacks, struggles, and failings. That’s all apart of conversion. Those who reach the end are not those who give up after failing at first, they are the ones who trust in the slow work of God in them.

***

We are all called to conversion. We are all called to take a step towards a more Christ-like life each and every day. The journey will never be completed in the day but is the result of continually showing up, keeping our focus on Christ, and trusting in the slow work of God. If you haven’t had success starting something new in your life this year, maybe this is what you need.

It seems like a rule of nature that conflict is inevitable. While the last two decades has been witness to extremely polarized thinking in both ecclesiastical and political debates, the fact of the matter is that people have always been in conflict. We disagree with one another. We get angry. We fight. Such is life. On this side of the Kingdom, I’m just not sure we can avoid it.

But oh do we try.

When I meet someone who has opinions diametrically different from mine, my first impulse is to try to change their mind. I may not open with that, and really, I may not even pursue it in action, but that desire is there. While small differences in opinion are not only good, they’re necessary, there is something deep inside of me that is unsettled when someone claims something I find absolutely ludicrous. I must fix them.

Maybe you know this feeling. If so, then maybe you know what usually happens in these cases: nothing. In my whole life, in all the people I have met and in all of the conversations about politics, religion, philosophy, or the like, I’m not sure if I have ever changed the opinion of someone who started off diametrically opposed to me. Never. Instead, what almost always happens is that at least one of us gets frustrated at our inability to fix the other person and we leave the conversation worse off than when we started: same opinions held but a worse relationship between us.

What do we do now?

More times than not, we just let it go. Rather than carrying the burden of the frustration with us well after the conversation is done, we try to forget the argument and move on with our lives. And on the surface, this seems like our best option: adding resentment to an altogether meaningless conversation is not good for one’s mental or emotional health, and benefits neither you nor your opponent. Letting the conversation go is probably the best thing we can do.

Rather unfortunately, though, we often let go of much more than that. In my experience, when faced with a difficult person or opinion that we cannot reconcile with the way we view the world, we often let go of the person as well. Rather than having to deal with the frustration that such a perspective is out there, and unwilling to accept that it cannot be reconciled with our world view, we employ a defense mechanism that eliminates the problem: we determine that that person or opinion is fundamentally wrong, therefore not of any worth to our lives.

It’s a nice tactic, actually. Able to put someone in a box—no, they put themselves in a box away from reason, not us!—our commitment to them and their ideas disappears. Those people are so messed up, we say. That one is crazy, we think. Why waste time thinking about or engaging people who are so far from right thinking?

And yet, as nice and comforting it is to us, as neat and tidy as it makes our relationships, when we do this, we forget something rather fundamental to our lives: As Christians, we do not have the luxury of writing people off.

As much as we want to solve problems by cutting people out of our lives and forever ignoring them, we do not have the luxury: we are called to forgiveness.

As much as we want to put people down for being “so messed up,” we do not have the luxury. We are called to love even our enemies.

As much as we want to attack others, play the victim, or try to get people our our side against them, we do not have the luxury. We are called to be meek peacemakers.

As much as the world may find certain behaviors and ways of dealing with conflict acceptable, we do not have the luxury. We are called to another world.

As much as we want to hide from issues and people, avoiding conflict and saying that “it’s not my problem,” we do not have the luxury. We are called to imitate God’s justice and mercy in our world, building up the kingdom of God, not just for ourselves, but for all.

There is no doubt in my mind that conflict has existed as long as life has existed and that it will continue long after I am gone. I have no utopian dreams of creating a world in which everyone holds hands and gets along, all thinking and speaking with one voice. This side of the Kingdom, conflict is a reality at the center of our lives. As Christians, that should not free us from being who we say we are—Christians. No, Jesus himself came and lived in a volatile world with conflict all around him. In fact, it is mainly through conflict that we know what we know about him and how we are to live. As easy as it is to buy into the values of the world—to act like the leaders of camps we see around us, to improve our cause by putting down our enemy, to determine for ourselves who is worth engaging and who is not—we need to remember one thing: if we want to call ourselves followers of Christ, we do not have the luxury of letting go of any part of the body of Christ.

Quotes. They’re a powerful literary and rhetorical device that bring meaning to what we’re saying, strengthen our argument, and legitimize our ideas, showing that someone of significance had the same feeling about something that we have.

Or they’re completely made up.

As comedian John Oliver presented on his late night HBO show two years ago, we live in a world where the spread of information reaches further than our ability (or desire) to fact check. While presenting a number of ridiculous and obviously fake quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie, Alexander Hamilton, and even himself, he points out, “If you have the right font and the right photo any quote can seem real.”

No doubt, we have all witnessed this phenomenon on social media, and while we probably don’t want to admit it, we have probably perpetuated it. I mean, who among us hasn’t quoted Ghandi saying “Be the change you wish to see in the world” or seen a quote from Albert Einstein and said, “Wow, I like that”? Chances are, all of us have fallen prey to at least one of these 50 common misquotations or, more to theme of these blog, a misquote of the Bible or a popular saint.

Which brings us to the beloved saint, Francis of Assisi. Arguably the most popular saint behind the blessed Mother, what St. Francis lacks in popularity behind Mary the Mother of God is more than made up for in misappropriated quotes. Sure, you can find pictures every once in a while of Mary holding the rosary (praying through herself…?) and there is no shortage of claimed apparitions, but no one matches the breadth of famously-quoted-but-never-actually-spoken lines as St. Francis. Do a quick Google search of “St. Francis quotes” and you will find tons of beautiful words attributed to the saint, many of which you have undoubtedly heard before. Many of them are great lines that touch our hearts and captures our imagination. And most of them have nothing to do with St. Francis! In researching this topic, I went to a popular quote website to see what he is credited with saying. Of the top 20, he might have said three of them (although none of them were exact quotations), but he most definitely did not say the first 16 listed.

That would not get you a good grade on an essay. Just saying.

But it raises an interesting question: what do we do with all of these quotes attributed to St. Francis? Outside of an academic setting where accuracy is paramount, I’m a bit torn. A part of me, sharing in John Oliver’s frustration, seeks for a purity of history, sticking as close to the facts as we are able and citing sources to support our claims. The spread of incorrect information is no small issue. And yet, there’s another part of me that sees the merit in even misattributed quotes. While not historically factual, there is nonetheless something true about some of them. Maybe St. Francis did not say these exact words, but he lived by their meaning, and, had he lived in the 21st century with us, might have said it just like that. In these historically inaccurate and misattributed lines we find an insight to the saint that we love and a way to carry on his legacy in a new world.

Or not. Some are just ridiculous and insulting and really frustrating and should never be said or shared or thought ever again. *Regains composure*

So, which quotes of Francis are authentic, and what do we do with the not-so-historically-accurate ones? That is the topic of this week’s Catholicism in Focus. In honor of the Feast of St. Francis this Wednesday, I look into some of his most popularly shared quotes on social media and give my take of their significance in our lives today.

For email subscribers, click here to watch the video.

As a final note, I have left here at the bottom some of my favorite quotes of St. Francis that actually have a source. Now, we can question the historical accuracy of the document (a much larger discussion for another time), but we are probably much closer to the real Francis when we quote sources from the 1220s rather than the 1990s… (All quotes from Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, New City Press, volume 1.)

“For what a person is before God, that he is and no more.” (Admonition XIX)

“A person sins who wishes to receive more from his neighbor than he wishes to give of himself to the Lord God.” (Admonition XVII)

“Nothing should displease a servant of God except sin.” (Admonition XI)

“Nothing belongs to you; you can boast of none of these things.” (Admonition V)

“Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out your hold and true command.” (Prayer before the Crucifix)

“We must never desire to be above others, but, instead, we must be servants and subject to every human creature for God’s sake.” (Later Admonition and Exhortation to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance)

“When the day of death does come, everything they think they have shall be taken from them. The wiser and more powerful they may have been in this world, the greater will be the punishment they will endure in hell.” (A Letter to the Rulers of the Peoples)

“It is a great misery and miserable weakness that when you have Him present in this way, you are concerned with anything else in the whole world!” (A Letter to the Entire Order)

“The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed to bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwords I delayed a little and left the world.” (The Testament)

“Hail, O Lady, Holy Queen, Mary, holy Mother of God, who are the Virgin made Church, chosen by the most Holy Father in heaven whom he consecrated with His most holy beloved Son and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete, in whom there was and is all fullness of grace and every good. Hail His Palace! Hail His Tabernacle! Hail His Dwelling! Hail His Robe! Hail His Servant! Hail His Mother! And hail all You holy virtues which are poured into the hearts of the faithful through the grace and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, that from being unbelievers, you may make them faithful to God.” (A Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

The other day I had an unfortunate run-in with someone on Facebook.

Scrolling through my newsfeed, I found an acquaintance of mine had posted something about the election from the viewpoint of the Catholic Church. Not recognizing the news source (not a good sign) and seeing a provocative title (something like, “Vote correctly or see your church close in November”) I hesitantly clicked. Apparently, some priest was telling everyone that if a “certain party” was elected, Churches would be forced to accept new doctrines, decided on by the government, or they would be forced to close because it was the goal of this party to destroy the family and shut down all churches.

Ugh. Talk about fear-mongering and dangerous rhetoric… and in the name of the Church.

While I try not to get involved with things like this when I can, I felt that, as a representative of the Catholic Church and knowing that this person had influence, I needed to make a public statement about the article. Responding via comment, I said that I was very disappointed in the priest and article, that it is yet another example of people trying to manipulate voters with fears that are not based in reality, and assured people that neither party has stated it plans to (or is even capable of) repealing the First Amendment, and that despite statements like this over the past eight years, religious houses of worship have always been granted exemptions to issues of religious freedom. This person’s response? “I’m entitled to my opinion and so are you.” The problem I had with this article, of course, was not that it shared opinions different from mine, but that it shared “facts” that were not true. No one is entitled to say things that are not true.

After writing this as a response, I was not only “defriended,” I was blocked entirely. Ouch.

The reason I write this is not to dwell on this particular encounter, as this is a nice person and I do not mean any harm, nor is it to discuss the issue of religious freedom and the interplay of government and religious institutions, as that is a topic for another day and another time. Instead, I have something very specific, and very important on my mind: we need to learn how to argue with each other.

This may sound like a strange statement coming from a man of peace, but I think the very fact that it does is one of the great failings of our current society (and Church!) and why we are as polarized as we are today. Arguments are not evil encounters that only exist with bad people and so should be avoided at all costs. No! Arguments are simply situations in which people who have come to different conclusions about something engage one another in conversation. Sure, they can be heated. Of course, passion may drive the conversation. But choosing to stand up for one’s opinion rather than ignore the situation or immediately assent to the other’s is not a bad thing, and it most certainly doesn’t have to end in punches or defriending. It can be a very good thing. At least, if it’s done well. As a Catholic and as a Franciscan living in a pluralistic United States, I think that we absolutely have to engage people, but that we need to do it with a few things in mind.

Arguments are not meant to be “won” The biggest issue for many is a conceptional one: the point of a good argument is not to defeat one’s opponent, it is to improve the understanding of the issue at hand for everyone. If the goal of each is to simply “win” the argument, the conversation becomes less about the issue itself—presumably something important worth doing—and more about determining who is “right” and who is “wrong.” But is there ever really a case in which one person is 100% right and the other 100% wrong? Likely not. No matter the situation, there is guaranteed to be something that both parties can walk away with better off than where they started.

But let’s say that there is such a case and one person is just categorically wrong and refuses to accept the truth, i.e. someone who believes that vaccinations cause autism. What is truly gained from seeing each other as enemies and creating winners and losers and making it one’s goal to belittle them? In those cases, I think we as Christians are called to go below the surface of the argument, to seek to understand the person a little better so as to know why they see the world as they do. There might in fact be something very true—a life experience, a fear, a hope for the future—that is shared between both parties and may help to bridge the gap of understanding. This is a situation in which everyone wins, no matter what they ultimately conclude.

Some arguments are just bad… but that doesn’t mean people are In a class years ago, a student shared an opinion that I felt misinterpreted the situation. I raised my hand and said, “I see where you’re coming from, but based on X and Y, I have to disagree.” After class, he came up to me and asked what I had against him. Huh? I don’t have anything against you! For him, there was no distinction between one’s ideas and one’s self, and so me attacking his idea was interpreted as me attacking him.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes good people have bad ideas and bad people have good ideas. In entering a debate, we need to always make the distinction between who someone is and what they’re arguing, and not a) let our emotions get the best of us and become offended by disagreement, or b) belittle an argument based on the character of the one saying it. If God has taught us anything in history it’s that the weakest and least likely people are are just as capable of speaking the truth as the wealthy and well-learned. Truth exists not because of the merit of the one who says it, but because it’s true in itself. In arguing, we are seek the truth irrespective of who says it.

Humility can go a long way The opposite is also true. Certain friends or family might find this final statement a bit humorous coming from me, but one of the most critical traits one has to have to argue well is the ability to admit to being wrong and change when necessary. Being impervious to change and unrelenting in one’s opinion does not make one “faithful,” it makes one dogmatic and an ideologue. Jesus denounced these people when he walked the earth and he certainly doesn’t need people like that now to build up his Church. What he did need, and what he desperately needs now, are men and women who have a firm foundation in the truth of God and God’s creation, but are willing to admit that they themselves are not omniscient or omnipotent—people who are willing to work from a foundation but adapt to the pastoral and cultural “signs of the times.”

Does that mean that everything needs to be on the table at all times? Of course not. For what it’s worth, I will probably never change my opinion on the human and divine nature of Jesus, the holiness of human life, and the need to care for the poor and marginalized. These are non-negotionables for me, and we all have them. What must always be open to change, however, is what these things mean in the modern world and how we are to live them out. And if this is can be true for something as important as how we honor the holiness of human life (something that has drastically changed every century in Church history), then it seems only fitting that we be able to do the same when it comes to taxes, education, daily habits, liturgy, where we eat dinner, foreign policy, and bed times.

***

We live in a world with seven billion people, all going in different directions with different sets of values. Thinking that we will always get along, or worse yet, that we should avoid anyone who disagrees with us for fear of conflicts, is not for Christians. It’s not the way Jesus lived by any means. When we commit to living by a radical worldview, we should not only expect arguments with others, we should welcome it. Evangelization does not occur when people already agree with us, it occurs when we engage people who have come to different conclusions about the world than us. As Christians, are we going to treat these people as our enemies, putting them down or running from them, or are we going to welcome them into peaceful, fruitful dialogue in which we learn to seek the truth together?