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Image: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation
Smelling Like the Sheep
Thursday, July 3, 2014
The most obvious change that results from the holding and allowing that we learn in the practice of contemplative prayer is that we will naturally become much more compassionate and patient. Compassion and patience are the absolutely unique characteristics of true spiritual authority, and without any doubt are the way both Francis and Clare led their communities. They led not from above, and not even from below, but mostly from within, by walking with their brothers and sisters, or “smelling like the sheep,” as Pope Francis puts it.
A spiritual leader who lacks basic human compassion has almost no power to change other people, because people intuitively know he or she does not represent the Divine or Big Truth. Such leaders have to rely upon role, laws, and enforcement powers to effect any change in others. Such change does not go deep, nor does it last. In fact, it is not really change at all.
With great wisdom, St. Francis was able to distinguish between institutional evil and the individual who is victimized by it. He still felt compassion for the individual soldiers fighting in the crusades, although he objected to the war itself. He realized the folly and yet the sincerity of their patriotism, which led them, however, to be unpatriotic to the much larger kingdom of God where he placed his first and final loyalty.
In Francis, as in Jesus, the turnaround of consciousness was complete: the bitter enemy of our small self is actually seen as the friend of the soul. Admittedly, only people in the later stages of the journey can finally see it that way. Only such a new person can take on the social illnesses of one’s time, and even the betrayal of friends, and not be destroyed by cynicism or bitterness.
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