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Franciscan Spirit Blog

I Am Anthony of Padua: Finding Balance

Aug 7, 2020
I Am Anthony of Padua: Finding Balance

In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, which is an anthology of imaginary letters from Uncle Screwtape—an Under Secretary to Satan—to his nephew and novice tempter Wormwood, Screwtape encourages Wormwood to capitalize on the “troughs” and “peaks” of humans, to make good use of what he calls human undulation.

For me, coming to know Francis of Assisi was crucial to achieving balance in my own life. Francis sensed that I struggled with the balance between learning and loving, between scholarship and spiritual expression.

He penned a fatherly note to me, saying, “It is agreeable to me that you should teach the friars sacred theology, so long as they do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotedness over this study.”18

Heresy, I think, is often a question of balance. The word itself, from the Greek hairein, meaning “to take,” suggests a dangerous tipping or “taking away” such a balance. I spent nine years of my life preaching in Italy and France, gaining, I am embarrassed to tell you, the reputation of being “the hammer of heretics.”19 My hope was not to hammer any person, but to restore spiritual balance by hammering home the truth as I understood it from Scripture and other sources of wisdom. I want to consider with you some imbalances that tempted our age and invite you to ponder those that tempt yours.

In the Middle of Every Heart

Each person’s center of gravity, the place where he or she is in tune with the universe, balanced and serene, is different. Musical harmonies shift from chord to chord. The same note cannot be sustained indefinitely. Spiritual balance is unique to each person and varies throughout the days of a person’s life. Yes, we undulate. We are not all asked to balance on point like a prima ballerina or strike a perilous pose on the circus trapeze. Yet the same confidence, the same courage, the same inward grace is required.

In my Sermones, I cited Luke, “I am among you as one who serves” (22:27), and continued, “[Jesus] stands in the middle in every heart; he stands in the middle so that from him, as from a center, all the lines of grace might stretch outward to us who are at the circumference, revolving and moving about him.”20

I can testify to this mighty power—these lines of blessed grace—at work throughout my life, but wish now to focus especially on my preaching missions in France and Italy. There, my challenge was to strengthen people of faith to face the temptation to lean too far to the left or the right, even to fall from balance, to move from the middle of their hearts.

And I say to you, “Stay ‘in the middle,’ therefore, and you will have peace with your neighbor. If you do not stay in the middle, you will not be able to have peace….”21


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