St. Francis of Assisi was raised by his wealthy father in luxury and social privilege. He loved to party with his young friends and remained isolated from the poverty which was the norm for most of society during the Middle Ages. His transformation occurred while riding away on horseback to join the Crusades, a worthy undertaking for a man desiring to prove himself to his family and friends back home.
Lepers were social outcasts who were feared, according to stories about Francis, greatly by the young man. Approaching a leper along the highway, he turned his horse and rode quickly the other direction not wanting to see or engage this man who was rejected by society. However, whether by conscience or whether by God, Francis could not remove the image of the diseased man from his mind, decided to turn around, determined to face this fear and spent time with the leper thus conquering his unfounded prejudice.
St. Francis, Jesus of Nazareth, Clare of Assisi, and documented mystics throughout history laid the foundations for a Christian philosophy which transcends popular belief that sin is the inherent nature of man and that ‘salvation’ is the goal of faith. Contrary to this contemporary Christian doctrine is the concept that mankind is a community of brothers and sisters who, in loving co-existence with the entirety of Creation, are designed to serve one another in peace and fellowship, engaging those at the bottom of the social ladder in service rather than aspiring to climb the ladder to a promised salvation in a far-away heavenly home thereby avoiding the ‘lepers’ of modern society, the disenfranchised.
In years past, blinders were put upon work horses to avoid distractions in the field or along the road. It seems that some of today’s Christians voluntarily put on blinders to avoid the dark side of today’s world, to avoid the distractions of intolerance, racism, hatred, white nationalism, homophobia, Islamophobia, homelessness, poverty.
Garth Brooks famously sang “Friends in Low Places” back in 1990. Could we (and I include myself at the top of this list) search the lowly places for those who have been cast by the wayside, commune with them, walk the talk with them, look beyond that which makes them different from us and somehow connect in solidarity with the One who makes us one humanity?
Perhaps we could get down into the nitty-gritty of humanity, love those whom St. Francis and Clare of Assisi loved, stand shoulder to shoulder with the ones Jesus addressed in the Beatitudes as “blessed”….perhaps then we could shun those Christian blinders (human and doctrinal) which prevent us from seeing the world as it is.
Maybe we need to look in the ‘low places’ rather than the heavens for Jesus?