Francis and Gandhi: Ministering to Untouchables

I could hardly sleep last night  thinking about St. Francis’s revelation that he was born centuries later as Mohandas Gandhi.

St. Francis ministered to the poor, most notably the actual untouchables of his generation, the lepers; Gandhi ministered to the poor, most notably people who were treated as lepers – the social untouchables or harijans (children of God) of modern India.  Last night St. Francis said:

“I have often positioned myself in places of extreme poverty or sickness, where the balance has been, oh, for centuries, out of alignment. There is a deep, abiding prejudice that I am working on with the human collective about their feelings about those who are ill. And I do not mean simply a cold or something minor, I mean those who are very debilitated or disabled, because these are also the teachers and the holders of compassion, of mercy. They sacrifice a great deal. So you will find me in the alleys, in the colonies. That is where you will find me.”

One could say of both lepers and untouchables that “the balance has been, oh, for centuries, out of alignment.”  He calls the debilitated and disabled “the teachers and holders of compassion, of mercy.”  But, for me, the giveaway of his later identity came when he said:  “You will find me in the alleys or colonies.”

Both Francis and Gandhi spent their early years in settings that were either wealthy or promised wealth – Francis as the son of a prosperous merchant; Gandhi as an aspiring lawyer. Yet both left that setting early on and after contact with the poor – Francis with the lepers that St. Claire cared for and Gandhi after contact with the struggling Indian masses of South Africa.

Both preferred a life of deprivation, Francis wearing a ragged costume amid medieval splendor and Gandhi eventually wearing only a loincloth.

Both courageously attacked the privilege of the establishment of their day and preached the fundamental dignity and equality of the impoverished.

Two centuries before the printing press was invented, Francis preached widely, even to the Pope and was befriended by many of influence, even being viewed mistakenly as one who would bring the poor back to the church. Gandhi wrote and spoke copiously and was seen as the man who could bring the poor to the Congress Party. Francis spoke of love and compassion; Gandhi of truth and compassion.

Francis was a friend of the animals and a vegetarian; Gandhi was a lover of animals and a vegetarian. Both could be described as universal in their sympathies, but while Francis was an ardent lover of Jesus, Gandhi loved all religions, including Christianity.

One controversy that arose was whether Gandhi was enlightened. There’s a strain of thought that says that people should put aside books and do spiritual discipline in order to be enlightened. I once heard a holy man, accepted as an avatar until he took a great fall, say that he personally had enlightened Gandhi upon the latter’s death.

But how interesting it is to know that Gandhi was St. Francis and so had been enlightened in a previous life. So advanced in his enlightenment that he was granted the miracle of the stigmata two years before his passing. What does that say about the superficiality of our knowledge of these matters? OK, the superficiality of mine?

The same with us Starseeds. We’ve come from higher dimensions and the mere statement of that implies enlightenment in other lifetimes. And yet we see that, with the wearing of the 3D veil, we have no access to that enlightenment.

But by the same token, we need to drop the discussion, I think, of who is and who is not enlightened.  We have no idea why people come and what their backgrounds are.

We criticize a man like Gandhi for not having devoted himself to his own enlightenment, only to find he is among the most enlightened of people.  In Francis’ next life as Gandhi (if it was his next), he came to do social service rather than religious.  This interview with St. Francis has certainly been a useful corrective for me.

If I thought that more than 85 days existed to study the two of them, I’d immediately bury myself in their biographies. But given the needs of the moment, it’s one line of research that may have to lie fallow. For now.

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