Greeting the leper within

October 26, 2009

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In my teaching career I have always had the good fortune to work in schools with a strong sense of spiritual ethos. My own experience of being a student was also marked by being in places with a strong sense of ethos: St Clare’s Convent, Porthcawl, St David’s VI Form College, Cardiff, the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, and Downside Abbey to name a few.

St Clare’s Convent which I mentioned was a Franciscan School. I say “was”, the Sisters sold the school to a totally secular educational organisation. It baffles me why they did this. Well not really … its great real estate but I really cannot understand why a spiritual organisation would wish to retreat from working with young people. The school formed some of my earliest memories of the spiritual life. I remember clearly their very simple chapel. There was a sister, Sr Aquinas, who used to teach us how to pot plants! I remember many beautiful images of Saints Francis, Clare and the San Damiano Cross. There were the sisters who encouraged me to play the violin when frankly I really did not want to. Some of the sisters were deeply spiritual people and the chaplain was an unquestionably holy man. I remember clearly having to attend his funeral at the Cathedral in Cardiff and seeing his coffin with a Franciscan habit draped over it. As a child it made a huge impression on me. 

A sense of support from the Franciscan Order has never left me. At University some of my best friends and indeed guides were Franciscans. When I was  a student in Rome I loved going to Assisi and experiencing prayer at the source of Franciscan life. Whilst I have few Franciscan contacts these days I have discovered one great guide, Fr Richard Rohr OFM. A friend of mine, the Rev Joanna Jepson, suggested him to me and the advice was spot on. Here are some thoughts from him for today:

“God calls all of us to take the demanding and liberating path of our own inner truth (John 8:31-32)—and that means taking responsibility for everything that’s in us: for what pleases us and for what we’re ashamed of, for the rich person inside us and for the poor one too. Francis of Assisi called this forgiving the leper within us and Therese of Lisieux called it “The Little Way.” It is always the way of courage and utter trust, recognizing both light and shadow within us.

If we learn to honor and claim our inner inheritance, we will grant others the same divine donation. If we learn to love the poor one within us, we’ll discover that we have room for compassion for all “outsiders” too, because we now know that we are all the same. Human solidarity now comes naturally.

Those who have enough space within them to embrace every part of their own soul can receive the fully human and fully divine Christ. And the good news is that Christ himself will lead us on this path.”

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