I write this column while on retreat in Assisi, Italy where amidst some wonderful prayer time at the holy places of Franciscanism and wonderful pasta dishes, there have also been some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. As I have reflected on the sunshine over the Umbrian valley in these days of prayer and contemplation, I am in awe of the glory of God and his goodness to me. I am blessed and honored to be a follower of St. Francis of Assisi and at times this week have wondered “why me?” How have I been the beneficiary of such a life filled with so many good things from God? It is certainly not that I somehow deserve it, and yet God’s graciousness is a fact that I am humbled to accept. God is good!
In the frenetic pace of my regular day far from the serenity of this central Italian mountainside retreat, I sometimes fail to see the goodness of God as much as I ought. Not that I don’t feel equally blessed standing in line at ABP in the Bryan Center talking with students or hearing confessions late on Wednesday nights in Goodson Chapel, but I sometimes fail to stop and acknowledge that I am the recipient of God’s grace in measures that are well beyond even my capacity to fully comprehend. Does God love me more than others? This Sunday’s Gospel assures me otherwise. In the 5th chapter of Matthew, Jesus confirms that God loves the good and the bad equally. He makes the sun rise and set on the good and the bad just the same. Talk about a buzz kill! Here I am on (in) cloud 9 in Assisi and God simply reminds me that his love is there for all in equal measure. As special as my life is, it really is no less special than anyone else. But the challenge is not to dial back the gratitude. The challenge is to dial up the love!
We all enjoy hanging out with our friends and sharing our lives with people like us – loving the people who love us back. Jesus is encouraging us to live outside that bubble more and more and realize that if he and his Father can share love with those who are most unlike them, so too must we. The sun shines on the good and the bad. The sun shines on me and everyone else. As I think of that challenge, I can’t help but remember here is Assisi the great St. Francis who made a life (albeit short – just 44 when he died in 1226) of reaching out to those who others didn’t want to love (the lepers) and the people on the fringe. Consider who is around you that needs the love that God has graciously shared with you and reach out to share it even if/when they don’t deserve it. The sun shines on the good and the bad. Ours is not to judge, ours is simply to love. There are people on the fringe of your love circle who can be transformed by your graciously sharing something that you received not really deserving. When we love those who don’t deserve it because we have been loved not deserving it, then the logic of Jesus is beginning to reign over us all. The sun will then shine more brightly on the good and the bad.
Just the ramblings of a guy on a hilltop in Assisi who is a little more aware today that he has been loved!
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