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Encountering the Divine Presence

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					                           Encountering the Divine Presence
EDITOR’S NOTE: Fr. Stephen, who ministers at Church of St. Mary in Providence, R.I., who is prolific
writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today, offers this reflection on how, like St. Francis and the
leper, we find the face of Jesus in the unexpected.

Stephen Lynch, OFM

Secular literature affirms biblical teaching that the Divine Presence, hope and neighborly love all go
together. Jesus Christ says that only love can connect us to the Divine Presence. "God is love. Those who
remain in love remain in God, and God in them." 1 John 4:16.

The American novelist, J. D. Salinger, in his novel, Franny and Zooey, introduces two fictional
adolescents, a brother and sister named Franny and Zooey. Both were stunned by the inhumanity and
hypocrisy of the world about them. Franny, the heroine of the story, is a sophisticated, typical Ivy League
coed, but far more sensitive than her peers to the shallowness of the social and cultural world she lives in.
The priorities and values Franny saw around her made no sense. She was beginning to see her value
world turning into so much burned-out incense, but she could find no adequate substitute for that
meaningless world of illusion. Her "good life" existence was turning to ashes, and Franny feels the floor
beginning to cave in under her feet.

When one becomes satiated, that which was satiating becomes repelling, often disgusting, sometimes
destroying. Slowly sinking into a pool of psychic oblivion, Franny swayed dizzily on the edge of darkness
and despair. Like a sponge saturated with water, Franny felt herself beginning to drown spiritually and
emotionally. She was struggling frantically for a tiny ray of hope that could save her from total
breakdown. That hope came in the form of a little pea-green book called The Way of the Pilgrim, which
contained the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

The rest of the story focuses on Franny’s search for the Jesus of the Jesus Prayer. Her search was filled
with frustrations, as Jesus seemed conspicuously absent from Franny's world. One day Franny and her
brother, Zooey, meet a fat lady who at first seemed quite repulsive. She belonged to the marginalized,
despised, and culturally alienated class of human beings. Zooey reminded Franny of Jesus’ words, "I
assure you, as often as you performed a merciful act of kindness for even one of my least brothers or
sisters, you did it for me." Matthew 25:40

Franny decided she would extend the fat lady the hand of friendship. When she did, she discovered that
she was actually beginning to feel the presence of Jesus Christ. She began to see a connection between
her relationship with God, and her relationship with even the least of God’s children. Franny had
discovered the mysterious connection between prayer and compassion, and thanks to her brother, Zooey's,
insight, Franny discovered her Jesus in the fat lady.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, in the Death of Arthur, offers this marvelous piece of spiritual insight:
"More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of."

St. Francis of Assisi, like Franny, also found the Jesus he was looking for when he reached out in
compassion to the leper he had originally experienced as loathsome and repulsive. When Francis
embraced the leper, much to his surprise, he encountered the Jesus that totally changed his life. Francis
discovered that the Divine Presence could be found, even where there was repulsiveness, brokenness, and
unspeakable pain. This grace-filled embrace of the leper became the catalyst, whereby Francis of Assisi
later voluntarily took on the life of an outcast to better mirror Christ and the Gospel values of self-
emptying and self-surrender.

How much more peaceful the world would be if human beings rose above the ancient impulse to
demonize the unfamiliar. Showing love and compassion to others can be the vehicle whereby a person
comes to a personal awareness of the God-presence. Spirituality is all about the Golden Rule of treating
others as we would like them to treat us.

                               Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
                                  where there is hatred, let me sow love;
                                        where there is injury, pardon;
                                              where is doubt, faith;
                                        where there is despair, hope;
                                        where there is darkness, light
                                       and where there is sadness, joy.
                             Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
                                                  as to console;
                                     to be understood, as to understand,
                                             to be loved as to love;
                                      for it is in giving that we receive,
                                 it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
                             and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.



    Oct. 2008

				
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