Francis’ famous embrace of the leper he met on the road was not merely a response to human suffering but, in medieval terms, an encounter with the excluded “other.” Lepers were not simply infected with a fearful disease. They symbolized the dark side of existence onto which medieval people projected a variety of fears, suspicions, and guilty sinfulness that must be excluded from the community of the spiritually pure. Lepers were outcasts banished from society. As his Earlier Rule enjoins, the brothers that Francis gathered around him “must rejoice when they live among people of little worth and who are looked down upon, among the poor and the powerless, the sick and the lepers, and the beggars by the wayside.”(Via Episcopal Cafe)
Even the famous Canticle of Creation expresses more than a rather romantic love of the natural world. The underlying meaning is more complex. The key notion is that all our fellow creatures as brothers and sisters reflect to us the face of Christ. . . . Verses 10-11 celebrate the peace that comes from mutual pardon or reconciliation.
“Be praised, my Lord,
Through those who forgive for your love,
Through those who are weak,
In pain, in struggle,
Who endure with peace,
For you will make them Kings and Queens,
O Lord Most High.”
The created world is to be a “reconciled space” because of the fraternity of all things in Christ. There is no room for violence, contention, or rejection of the “other.”
From A Brief History of Spirituality by Philip Sheldrake (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).
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