Br Philip McMahon celebrated his Solemn Profession in Killarney Friary on 17 September, the feast of the Stigmata of Saint Francis. Minister Provincial, Aidan McGrath OFM, who himself marked his Golden Jubilee of Profession on the same day, spoke of the Franciscan path to which Philip made a wholehearted and lifelong commitment.
The life of St Francis of Assisi is full of memorable and sometimes dramatic moments. One of the earliest sees him at Mass in the little chapel of Our Lady of the Angels outside Assisi. It was the Feast of St Matthias and the Gospel that day was about Jesus sending out his disciples two by two, taking nothing with them for the journey, bringing the news of God’s Kingdom to all. Although this was not the first time he had heard this passage, Francis went to the priest and asked him to explain it. Filled with utter joy, he exclaimed, ‘This is what I want, this is what I seek, this is what I long for with all my heart.’
For some time before this, Francis had been undergoing a gradual conversion, away from being the party boy and the reveller of Assisi. He believed that the Gospel passage at that Mass in the little chapel that he had helped to rebuild was addressed to him. He believed that he was called there and then simply to live according to the Gospel.
This quiet event stayed with Francis. When he came to write his Rule and Form of life in 1221 and 1223, he begins by stating, ‘The Rule and Life of the Friars Minor is this: to observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without anything of our own and in chastity.’ For eight centuries, men and women have sought to follow in the way of Francis, giving themselves wholly to the service of God, dedicating themselves to a life of the Gospel, preaching more by their way of life than by their words.
This is the way of life to which our brother Philip have been called. Living the Gospel does not mean that you have learn the full text of the four Gospels and commit them to mind. It means coming to know the One whom Pope Benedict once called ‘the living Gospel’, Jesus Christ. Time and again, Francis wrote about wanting only to follow in the footprints of the Lord Jesus and His Blessed Mother.
It is a way of life that knows no compromise or half-measures: Francis indicated this clearly in a short meditation on the mystery of the Eucharist in which he saw repeated on a daily basis the mystery of the Incarnation; he wrote, ‘O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles himself that for our salvation he hides himself under an ordinary piece of bread! Brothers, look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before him. … Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!,
After hearing that simple Gospel passage, Francis gave himself to God’s service joyfully, enthusiastically and without reserve.
Of course, the Gospel way of life is not meant for the individual alone. Without any kind of recruitment or encouragement, others came to live and be with Francis in his new venture in Assisi. Later on, writing in his Testament, in the period prior to his death, Francis recalled the moment by saying, ‘the Lord gave me brothers’. For him, those who came to him were a gift from God. He had not sought them out. He had nought sought to convince anyone that they should join him. Instead, he was convinced that the Lord had inspired them to come to walk with him on this journey of discovery of living the Gospel.
So for Philip, living the Gospel way of life does not mean simply keeping a few rules and regulations – don’t do this, don’t do that, do this or do that – all on his own. It is about discovering the joy of the Gospel in and with your brothers (in fraternity in the first place) and with all your brothers and sisters in the world. St Francis had a very profound sense of being a brother – not just to the friars who were with him, but to all women and men, and indeed to all created things. Remember his Canticle of the Creatures when he celebrated, ‘Brother Sun … Sister Moon….’
All of this stemmed from a very radical sense of having God as a Father, a Father who loved and cared for all created things, a Father who made everything that ever was and found it very good, a Father who was all tenderness and compassion.
This profound sense of God as Father (and Mother) shaped the whole worldview of Francis and his early brothers.
This is clear from something that he said at one of the great gatherings of the friars in Assisi about how he saw their vocation, ‘We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.’ Time and time again in his letters and exhortations to the friars, Francis wrote about the need for them to show mercy to others at all times – without exception. For him, mercy was the deepest expression of God’s love for us. He recalled in his Testament how God had led him among lepers whose company he found repulsive while a young man. But under God’s inspiration, he showed them mercy; in other words, he began to treat them not as outcasts or people to be avoided but as sisters and brothers to be loved, to be cared for, to be treated with dignity.
The society in which Francis lived was very different from ours in many ways and yet it was also very similar. The city of Assisi is a good example: the city stands on a steep hill – at the top of the hill was the castle where the rulers lived and kept the peace; then came the level of the nobles, followed by that of the wealthy, then the less wealthy and then, outside the walls of the city, the peasants, the farmers and the poor and unwanted. Each level of society was defined by the duties towards the higher ranks. It was a tough an unforgiving system.
Today, at least in Ireland, we do not have that feudal system of division among people. However, we still encounter – frequently, unfortunately – a mindset of ‘them’ and ‘us’.
The way of life to which Philip has been called, and into which he will shortly make his Solemn Profession is a way of life that respects the dignity of each and every individual, no matter what their stage of life, no matter what their place in society, no matter how important or not important.
A Friar Minor, Philip is called to be a brother to all and to show mercy to all.
The Gospel parable of the unmerciful servant is a sharp reminder, if any were needed: the servant who had been forgiven the enormous sum of money did not see the need to forgive the other servant who was indebted to him; he had forgotten the old proverb, ‘Do not do unto others what you would not want done to you.’
As Philip takes this definitive step of Solemn Profession, we pray that he may model himself wholly on St Francis; may he open his heart to embrace all his sisters and brothers; may he deal with everyone and everything with a sense of being a brother to all created things; may his heart be always filled with the joy of the Gospel, and may that joy radiate out to others by the way he lives.
We pray that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Queen of the Angels, the Queen of the Franciscan Order, to whom Francis and Clare were so devoted, will accompany with Philip on his journey of seeking to walk in the footprints of her Beloved Son.