No One Was Excluded
A Reflection by Fred Schaeffer, OFS
People are having a great struggle with the concept of accepting everyone as their equal. Years ago, I was at a prayer meeting and a man walked in who was behind on his personal grooming, so it seemed. Immediately, the thought occurred to me, "what is he doing here?" As I thought that, I felt shame. I am a Franciscan, and if I would have listened to our Seraphic Father St. Francis, I would not be capable of issuing this harsh and unspoken criticism. I had a desire to go up to the man, and bid him welcome, but I saw someone else already talking to him, so I did not approach. I’m such a coward at times. As an immigrant to USA, now a naturalized citizen, I have experienced exclusion for several years when my English (the language) wasn’t so hot.
In this country, migrant workers are sometimes excluded from the mainstream. I've wondered why? Is it because they are mostly from central America and so they do not speak English? No, that cannot be, because many other people speak little or no English. Or is it that we do not dare shake hands with a stranger? Women, in my experience, are more likely to talk to other women, than men to other men. I helped in a nursing home once, and the Activities Department asked me to moderate a conversation between men. I must say it was almost impossible. If we men have something in common, then maybe, but just being in the same place does not seem to be enough. To a degree it is the same thing with refugees; they tend to stick with other refugees. But religion has a part in all this, too. People who are alone will often talk to Catholics in and around Church; they know they have their Faith in common.
One of the most displaced and excluded people right now are the Catholic, and other Christian Palestinians. And people who live in various portions of land that are constantly in danger will probably feel lonely and abandoned. Please pray for them, for healing.
When I visit with my snowbird (seasonal winter residents) neighbors and all they do is speak in French (because most are from Ontario and Quebec, Canada, I feel excluded. So excluded, in fact, that I never attend their social functions. Who would I have to talk to? I don't speak French! There are thousands of people in the same boat. They immigrate to a foreign country, but they just can't seem to learn the language in good time. My mother was a good example, God rest her soul. We immigrated to USA in 1954. I did well with English after 3-4 years, but I was in High School during that time. Dad went to work every day, but Mom stayed home and had little contact with anyone. It took her over 8 years before she felt comfortable talking with anyone; we used the Dutch (my native tongue) and German (Mom’s language) among us, often leading to a comical mix of both languages at the same time. Try to figure that out!
Years ago, I visited a Leper Hospital in Louisiana. Although Leprosy is under control these days, still some of the patients feel like outcasts of society. St. Francis would throw a party of their gathering and bid them welcome with his friars. My visit was part of a Franciscan (OFM) orientation program when I thought I wanted to join that order. The lepers of today are not just the homeless, but the sick, as well. As an only child, I experienced firsthand with my mother, in the early 1980's, that when it became evident, she was suffering from Alzheimer's, all her friends left. They wanted no part of her. Because she no longer fit into their social norms. She was excluded. It was shameful and very sad. But this is a common occurrence. Any illness having to do with the brain, for example Alzheimer's, and people who are spastic or get seizures, they often are excluded from social groups. That's not right.
If you see some of the holy cards of St. Francis, you see a friar with many birds listening to him, for example, and one gets the feeling that St. Francis was a sort of mellow and romantic figure. But he was tough and radical; those "sweet holy people" portrayed on holy cards or other images do not show exposure to the marginalized side of life. St. Francis was "rebuilding the Church" by showing us how he tenaciously identified with the poor and downtrodden. That's the side of him which the holy cards and statues do not show. The legendary Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR*, (1933 – 2014), is a good example of a modern-day Francis who gets into the realm of the poor and downtrodden with both feet. His service to the poor of the East Bronx (NY) is by being right among them. There are a couple of other Franciscan priests of all branches who minister right among people with AIDS who really have no one else. They are excluded too. Why? Because we judge them, and Our Lord Jesus told us not to do this, to leave all judgment to the Father. When you judge people, you cannot forgive them for being different from yourself, and before long you'll find that you cannot forgive yourself for that negative attitude you bear to your brothers and sisters in Christ!
As followers of St. Francis, we make daily personal conversion to live his Rule he prepared for us. Even though St. Francis preached to the poor, he was spiritually very rich. And so are we. I'm not talking about social standing, breeding or having a lot of money. That "richness" is fleeting. You can't take it with you, and it most assuredly will not guarantee that you will be with Jesus until the end of time. I'm referring to an inner strength inspired by Jesus Christ through Baptism, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the knowledge that Our Lord is close to your heart. Franciscans, when they follow their Rule day after day, will be with God until the end of time. But that takes daily work as you know. People who live in God's Presence are happy people (even though they might have much pain and suffering) and they are richer than people with a million dollars in cash! Such people have all this money to worry about, security, the economy, taxes, etc. - they spend so much time worrying about their wealth that they do not have time to do good to their brothers and sisters. Some are good and philanthropic, but many others could care less what happens to anyone but themselves. I don't want to generalize. Poor people have that problem, too, but most of the poor people I've met will give you the last piece of bread out of their kitchen and do without themselves. The poor are often meek and humble because they are not pretentious. Praise God for the poor and the humble. They are friends of Jesus!
Refugees, and I've met many in my life, are excluded from the mainstream too. I've met people whose husband or wife were killed in a concentration camp in World War II. Those who were fortunate to live are the refugees. They abhor the country they lived in, because that's where all the pain was, and they feel often unwelcome anywhere else. I am abhorred by people who claim the Holocaust did not happen. I know it happened. I lost a great part of my family in those camps in Germany and Poland, so don't try to tell me the camps did not exist. 3000+ Priests were also killed in those camps. Read the biography of St. Maximillian Kolbe, a Franciscan Priest. For many the suffering is still real, after so many years, because the wife or husband can never come back. Know that it is inhuman and immoral to exclude people who are suffering and grieving the loss of a soul mate. St. Francis, on the other hand, would envelop us in an embrace and cry with us at the loss we're suffering. WWII is now 75 years ago, and few people who suffered through 1940-1945 are still with us. I was 5 when the war ended, but I was there, in Western Europe. Please, never forget the Holocaust, that is the only way that horror won’t happen again.
Let us pray for the people of Venezuela, who are going through great danger as we hear in current news reports, and other nations where there is war and oppression.
Strive to be humble. Humility cannot be artificial, it must be real. Humility is a gift of God, so take all filters from your eyes and respect everyone because he and she is our brother and sister, just as Jesus is our brother. Who knows, the next person you speak to may remind you so much of our dear Jesus, that you wonder hours later if that was really Him. Then rejoice in the knowledge that you've seen a man or woman of God. We cannot exclude anyone. We do not have that right. It just isn't Christian, and it certainly isn't Franciscan, either.
Be kind and charitable to all people you might meet. Show all people your best side instead of your worst. Be Christ to everyone you meet. May Jesus continue to bless you as you become richer in His Presence. Amen.
Written in 2006 (Rev. 2019) Fred Schaeffer, OFS
(*) A wonderful text, written by Fr. Groeschel is: “Healing the Original Wound”, 1993, Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, MI.
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
Vero Beach, FL
Term expires: 2/10/2022
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Helen Caldarone, OFS
Mary "Jean" McGovern, OFS
Jack Reddy, OFS
Donna Haro, OFS
Joanne Giordano, OFS
Fred Schaeffer, OFS