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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Gift of Brothers

   In St. Francis Testament written at the end of his life he writes, "....and the Lord gave me brothers."  You see Francis did not set out to found an order and recruit people to join it.  He set out to do the Lord's work and people found there way to him.  He received them as gifts from the Lord. His words challenge us friars to see one another as gifts, and given that we are all so very human that is not always easy.

   Here at St. Anthony Friary we just had the funeral of one of our brothers, Fr. Jim Jones, OFM. Jimmy, as he was known to us, was only 68 years old and had been ill with a heart condition for the past few years. That condition was worsened when he was mugged five years ago while taking a walk here in our generally safe neighborhood.   He was also the seventh member of our community to die in the past 13 months. Ever since I came here Jim has been a positive presence in our community.   He was not able to engage in much public ministry, though I did notice that priests, and other people as well, often came by and said they had an appointment with him.

  It was, I believe,  the spiritual writer, Ronald Rolheiser, OMI,   in one of his recent books  who talked about the grieving process and about the fact that only after death is the totality of the gift that the person was in life able to be fully appreciated.   I have found that to be true with all seven of my brother friars who have died this year, but today especially in the case of Jimmy.

   Our local bishop, Robert Lynch, came to the funeral.  His reason for coming was to thank us Franciscans for the contribution that Jim Jones made to the diocese because of what he did for the priests here through spiritual direction.  The homilist, Fr. John Tapp, from one of the local parishes, eloquently made the same point when he shared how Jim had been his spiritual director for 14 years.  All of us in the community knew that Jim had done spiritual direction but never realized the extent of and the impact of his ministry.  I mentioned above the fact that Jim was mugged a few years ago.  Both the bishop and Fr. Tapp talked of Jim's journey towards forgiveness of his attackers, something that gives a challenging witness to all of us.

    As Christmas draws near and we think of giving and receiving gifts I am thankful for the gift of Jimmy Jones and all of my brothers who have died in the past year.  I also pray to be able to better appreciate gift of those now living--in my Franciscan community, in my family, and in the great and growing circle of friends with whom the Lord has blessed me.  That is a real Christmas gift.

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