As we enter into Holy Week my thoughts turn to Good Friday and the words of Jesus as he was dying on the cross.
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mt. 27: 46
What does it mean to be “Forsaken”? Can we even imagine how this feels?
In the time of Francis one group of “Forsaken” were the lepers. A group of people whose very identity was officially erased. They were the “disappeared” of their day. The very act to remove them from society was an official act of the Church with a proper Ritual.
The Mass of Separation
The mass, spoken by a priest, was performed at the site of the leper’s hut. The whole parish accompanied a newly identified leper to his/her new home [outside the city walls] as the priest performed the mass.
I forbid you to ever enter a church, a monastery, a fair, a mill, a market or an assembly of people.
I forbid you to leave your house unless dressed in your recognizable garb and also shod.
I forbid you to wash your hands or to launder anything or to drink at any stream or fountain, unless using your own barrel or dipper.
I forbid you to touch anything you buy or barter for, until it becomes your own.
I forbid you to enter any tavern; and if you wish for wine, whether you buy it or it is given to you, have it funneled into your keg.
I forbid you to share house with any woman but your wife.
I command you, if accosted by anyone while travelling on a road, to set yourself down-wind of them before you answer.
I forbid you to enter any narrow passage, lest a passerby bump into you.
I forbid you, wherever you go, to touch the rim or the rope of a well without donning our gloves.
I forbid you to touch any child or give them anything.
I forbid you to drink or eat from any vessel but your own.
Martene’s DeAntiquis Ecclesiae Ritibus, “Ordo I” , quoted. in Martinus cawley, “The Life of Alice the Leper and the Silver Age of Villers,” Cistercian Scholars Quarterly
It was from this lived experience of the removal of society of the “forsaken” that we read from the Testament of Francis:
The Lord gave me, brother Francis, to begin to do penance in this way: While I was in sin, it seemed excessively bitter to me to see lepers. And the Lord himself led me among them and I did mercy with them. And when I left them that which seemed bitter to me had been changed into sweetness of spirit and the body; and afterward I lingered a little and left the world. [of Assisi]
Who are the “Forsaken” of today? Who do we not want to look at or not want to see? Who are we keeping outside of the walls of our communities? How are we as Secular (Lay) Franciscans responding?