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Franciscan Blues

May 16, 2014

Let’s talk about the Blues.

You know what I mean — that sad, sweet music played on the jazzy swing of the saxophone or the hum of a sighing harmonica. It’s the music about those little troubles in life, those small sorrows that sneak into the soul and sit there like an old friend you thought you’d forgotten. The Blues are a prayer, brother. Uh-huh. There’s only one station on the old FM radio of life and it’s playin’ the Blues.

We all have our own way of singin’ the Blues — of living out those little troubles that knock on our heart’s window panes. And sure enough we have our own Franciscan Blues. They’re very different than anyone else’s. There’s the Dominican Blues. There’s the Jesuit Blues. There’s even the Benedictine Blues (which maybe they sing when they get up for the Midnight Office). But only we friars have the Franciscan Blues.

You know what I mean, brother. You’re standing in the church in your habit, locking up, and some guy comes up to you and says: “So, are you some kind of monk?”
And you say: “We’ll, I’m glad you didn’t say Jedi, first of all. But I’m not a monk – a monk takes a vow of stability and lives in an enclosed monastic community but we are friars who live a more mendicant lifestyle in order to preach the Gospel –” But the guy’s already wandered off and you’re left alone just singing the Franciscan Blues.


Or how about the fact that nobody cares if you wear sandals or not until it’s February and ten degrees out with three feet of snow and you decide to slip on the black dress shoes and everyone you meet points to your feet and says: “I thought friars were supposed to wear sandals. What’s wrong with you?” And you just smile and start singing those good old Franciscan Blues.

Yes, we’re surrounded by the Blues. It’s not the color most often shown on the vocation posters, where joyful hearty Brown predominates. As it should. But Blue shows up an awful lot in our Franciscan lives. We may be wearing Brown and be singing the Blues.

Some things are just Blue. Tears, for instance, are Blue. That’s the way we color ’em in as kids and that’s the way they are. Our own tears . . . the tears of those we meet in ministry . . . the tears of a gritty messy world. That’s part of Franciscan life.

Also Blue: our failed hopes and expectations. You know what I’m saying, brother. You’re driving into the parking lot at Best Buy. There’s one last space. You race to it. Victory is yours. Then at the last second a Blue Prius apparates out of nowhere and takes your spot. It’s always a Blue Prius. Those cars were made to steal the last spaces in a parking lot. And so your failed expectations, also Blue.

Finally . . . Death is Blue. It’s true. Ask anyone who’s used an old version of Windows. The Blue Screen of Death. One of the scariest colors Death can wear. And yet as Franciscans we must live often with our sister bodily Death. She hums beside us like a worn-out harmonica, sighing the sad song of the Blues.

You may be saying, “Brother, enough of this depressing music. Isn’t it Easter time? Play us some hallelujahs, man.”

We are Easter people. We are Easter friars. So yes, we may have to put the Blue with the Brown and figure out a way to harmonize the medley. But God gives us His own set of Blues to inspire us and fill us with Franciscan joy.

First, there’s the Blue of sea and sky — the Blue of Creation. Our world hangs in space like a little blue marble and it is this world that shines with the radiance of God. St. Francis praised creation even on his sick-bed at San Damiano, when he could have been writing a bluesy song about how disgusting mice are. Instead he composed the Canticle of Creation. That’s his gift to us, his boundless optimism and trust in the Creator’s glorious universe.

The second Blue: again, tears. This time, though, the tears of Jesus. The tears of Christ show us his humanity more than anything else about him. The Gospels never depict Jesus laughing, only crying. For we could imagine a distant God who laughs at us; only a God who became human could every really weep with us and suffer with us. St. Francis loved the image of the poor, suffering, weeping Christ because it is in this Christ that God bends down to touch the very heart of humankind.

Lastly, the Blue of the Mother of God, the Blue of Mary. In this month of May we see her Blue everywhere: May crownings, Marian consecrations, Fatima processions. Her Blue is a Blue of hope, the hope of the most faithful disciple of Jesus, willing to follow and watch and wait silently for the redemption of the world. This Blue of hope is our flag, our banner — our song.

These are the Blues God gives us, brother. These are the Franciscan Blues that are ours to sing. Even when the little troubles and the bigger sorrows tap our shoulders, stay for dinner, move right into the third floor guest room — let’s still sing those good old Franciscan Blues that are God’s gift to Francis and Francis’ gift to us.

Mmm-hmmm! Amen. Uh-huh. You know it, man.


From → Musings

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