My 14 year old Molly’s latest artwork was finished just in time for a Mardi Gras gift to our Capuchin friar friend, Ichabod, in the Middle East. But, an email from him this morning points out that it makes any even more perfect symbol for today, Ash Wednesday. It is just what he needs for his mission in a land where a Catholic priest is hardly welcome. He will need a Super-Strength, and there is nothing mightier than the Pink Rhino. So, where do we find such a creature? He is in anyone who runs on Compassion, a “battery” best found in the admission of one’s weakness and sin -AND THEN TOUCHED TO THE CORE BY THE HIGHEST POWER of all. The result is the AWESOME Might of Gentleness, of Tenderness.
It ran so well in the soul of “the Great Soul,” Mahatma Gandhi, who did not observe Ash Wednesday but who stated emphatically on many a Wednesday or any other day, “The only devils in this world are those who live in men’s hearts, and the only battles that should be fought are there, each one battling himself. I haven’t fared very well in mine, and that is why I have so much tolerance for other scoundrels such as me.” That is why, as many times as he was slapped or beaten, he could gently offer his other cheek.
It wasn’t long ago that Pope Francis visited our shores. Remember that guy?! Most of us went GaGa over him!!! Do we remember? Do we recall what was the gist of his message to “the most powerful nation on earth?” i have written many times how he could actually have found it in a letter written by George Washington to the nation in embryo. But Pope Francis already knew the answer and declared George’s secret wherever he roamed: “THERE IS NOTHING STRONGER THAN MERCY!” Ichabod notes what an excellent symbol Molly Robinson of Beacon, New York, has made of Pope Francis’ WORLD MISSION, being carried out by women and men like Fr. Ichabod: A PINK RHINOCEROS!!! What a bright child i have!!! The Mightiest of Might that can only be found in LOVE. No one said it better than St. Paul, who under the name of Saul appeared to be a man of power, quite the brute. He rounded up followers of Jesus and had a good old time watching them squirm and die. And then he saw THE LIGHT and how TRULY WEAK AND MISERABLE he was, not strong at all, just another bully. It was only when he was stripped of all power, all wealth, every-thing, that he really started to live. “When I am weak, it is only then that I am strong, in the strength that I have from above,” from the One Who Showed the Surest Strength by surrendering His Power to Love.
My friend, Ichabod, is not walking some new path through the Middle East – although it absolutely is “A ROAD LESS TRAVELED BY.” No, he walks in the footsteps of another man, the “first of the little brothers” who set the precedent for the mission some 800 years ago. St. Francis of Assisi, once a knight himself with all the swords and armor and other trappings, had fallen madly in love with a different kind of king. The Credo of all good knights was found in one word, which described such a King, MAGNANIMITY. It means to PROVE ONE’S GREATNESS by bending, serving, lifting up anyone who is below you, anyone in need. He had only found ONE SUCH KING, and he promised that ONE & ONLY his everything. Francis had found THE PINK RHINO and so was transformed into one himself. Strength in Service, in Compassion!
Without a doubt the perfect example of the pink rhinoceros came out during the Great Crusade, the centuries-long battle against the ultimate foe, or so they were seen, the Muslims. A young Francis had pledged his life, his blood, to defeat them. A NEW Francis, with NEW EYES and NEW HEART – found in the ashes of his sins forgiven, set out on foot and without sword or armor to the same Middle East (where his brother Ichabod walks just like him.) St. Francis in an action UNTHINKABLE-to-say-the-least walked straight through the “enemy lines” and asked to be taken to their leader. Imagine how many times the word “CRAZY” in its various translations was used that day!!! He was fearless, as only a PINK RHINO could be. He could NOT be harmed! All that he had to do was to reflect on the words of St. Paul thanking God for preserving him from all harm. Ha Ha, He He Ho Ho!!!!!!!! Did he miss something? Did he have major Alzheimer’s Disease? Could he not remember just how many times he was beaten, stoned, imprisoned, tortured? Why, of course he did! And he even knew that eventually they’d finish him off – that is, his body. But they could do no harm to HIM, the REAL HIM, the SAUL-BECOME-PAUL. He had been shown GREAT MERCY, handed personally by Christ “the Pearl of Great Price;” he had all that he could ever need or want.
And so Francis…in the very same Mercy, with the very same Pearl in the pocket of his soul, went to THE BIG GUY, the head honcho, the one who pulled all the strings of the enemy forces, and said, “Why can’t we find peace? After all, are we not brothers under the One God?” The Sultan Malik al-Kamil gazed with awe and listened intently to the PINK RHINO. Truly he had never before seen such STRENGTH. In the end he apologized to the holy man, saying those saddest of words, “If only they were all like you, Brother Francis, I would gladly order every soldier to lay down his arms.”
If only pink rhinos were not so very rare!!
Well, at least i know of another one….Francis still walks. Gandhi still breathes. Jesus still lives. And Nothing will ever be Stronger than Mercy.