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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Happy Saint Francis Day!

Saint Francis of Assisi was one of the most extraordinary saints to ever live. He and his companions(along with the Dominican order) brought some much needed revival to the rather tepid Church of that day and provided a very authentic example of how to live the Gospel. The desire of St. Francis and his companions to live without property was even a bit of a concern for the Church, as most clergy of that day had strayed far from the radical Gospel poverty of Christ. The Friar’s first trip to Rome in hopes of gaining approval demonstrates this concern:

“Thus all were of the opinion that so literal an interpretation of the Gospel went beyond human strength, and the Pope himself declared, ‘Although your zeal, my dear sons, reassures us, we must nevertheless think of your successors, who may find the path you wish to follow too austere.’
But the Cardinal of St. Paul replied, ‘If we reject this poor man’s request on such a pretext, would not this be to declare that the Gospel cannot be practiced, and so to blaspheme Christ, its Author?’”
(St. Francis of Assisi, Englebert)

Indeed, Francis did demonstrate that the Gospel can be practiced, through his voluntary poverty, in the relentless desire for and single-minded pursuit of his Creator, in his humble service to the poor and lepers, in his appreciation for God’s creation and his intense love for all peoples. Chesterton writes:

“He honoured all men; that is, he not only loved but respected them all. What gave him his extraordinary personal power was this: that from the Pope to the beggar, from the sultan of Syria in his pavilion to the ragged robbers crawling out of the wood, there was never a man who looked into those brown burning eyes without being certain that Francis Bernadone was really interested in him; in his own inner individual life from the cradle to the grave; that he himself was being valued and taken seriously, and not merely added to the spoils of some social policy or the names in some clerical document.”

Saint Francis is a great model for us all, even some 800 years later. Jim Wallis says it well: “Sometimes his example convinces me that it is indeed possible, with God’s abundant grace, to live the gospel life. Other times his star shines so bright that it only exposes my own darkness. Francis converts me over and over to Jesus, but he also makes me sometimes wonder if I really am or want to be a Christian. He both points to the great possibility and shows me how much further I have to go to see what he saw.”

Saint Francis, pray for us!