Assisi on the Meuse

This week I was a guest at the Monastery of the Franciscans in Megen, right on the Maas. I have finally made my dream of staying with the brothers for a few days a reality. In the past I wouldn’t have gone here so easily. Franciscans are Catholic and Catholics do a number of things that I labeled as ‘idolatry’ from an early age: worshiping images, bowing to a cross or praying to Mary.

I grew up in Belgium. A country that is originally very Catholic and this was clearly noticeable, especially in my youth. Every child I knew from my village ‘made’ his first and later his solemn communion. If only for the gifts that were lavishly handed out at such parties.
In secondary school you could choose Catholic, Protestant or moral studies for the religion subject. I was the only ‘Protestant’ sitting alone with a teacher in a shabby room listening to Bible stories, while the vast majority of my peers studied the Catholic festivals and rituals. Still, it always gave me a feeling of ‘it’s nice that I’m not there’.

Fortunately, I have completely changed. This internal transformation has everything to do with the deep renewal in my thinking from years ago. When I began to discover the scope and diversity of the Kingdom of God, many walls fell away and short-sighted conclusions disappeared from my thinking. The Kingdom of God is inclusive, because Jesus especially welcomes people. Suddenly I realized that God’s greatness and the way He reveals Himself to me is greater than my church background or personal preference. As if one church or one denomination has the exclusive right to know God and worship Him.

God’s overwhelming goodness is greater than any local church or religious group. I am convinced that something unique from God can be found in all those denominations. Many movements arose because someone had received new light or insight from God. One denomination therefore emphasizes the Word, while the other focuses on the Spirit. The first club focuses on grace while the second focuses on good works. Evangelical groups enjoy exuberance and loud music, while these Franciscans focus on sobriety and silence. And the Kingdom of God is it all: silence and joy, grace and doing good, the Word and the Spirit… And every group also has its mistakes and blind spots. All!

Brother Loek, a Franciscan in Megen for many years, was the contact person for my visit to the monastery via email. He is a pleasant and cheerful man, who introduced me to the habits of Francis. Four times a day a shared moment of silence, prayer and especially reading or singing the Psalms out loud together. Almost half an hour each time. That rhythm and intensity touched me deeply. The hunger for knowing God’s Word has grown.
I have participated in a Eucharistic celebration three times. In the past I would not have done that, because ‘they’ believe that bread and wine really turn into flesh and blood. But now I tasted Jesus in the host and the wine, and in the people I sat down with. The heavens opened and He was there. Once again I was moved by people who serve God with dedication from a different tradition.

When I was in Brother Loek’s room on Thursday to complete my stay, he thanked me. “You are a special and very spiritual person, Martin,” he said. I responded that I found him gentle and honorable and that I learned much from their discipline and devotion to God and His Word. We looked at each other and both had tears in our eyes. Two farmers from completely different backgrounds and traditions had seen Jesus in each other, because Jesus is Catholic and Protestant. So we said goodbye and both said: ‘See you again soon!’

About Martin Koornstra

Getrouwd met Karin, 2 mooie dochters, passie voor Jezus, spreker, schrijver, trainer en een beetje gek!

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