“Of works of mercy, Francis of Assisi is your master and model.” ~ Saint John Paul II
Today’s Entrance Antiphon neatly sums up the life of the man we commemorate today, the great stigmatist and founder of the Franciscan Order Saint Francis of Assisi https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=50. It states “Francis, the man of God, left his home behind, abandoned his inheritance and became poor and penniless, but the Lord raised him up.”
Widely known and regarded by virtually everyone who knew his story as a tremendous example of virtue, charity, and docility, the Dalai Lama himself identified Saint Francis as the perfect model on how to live. On his drive-home radio show Kresta in the Afternoon, President of Ave Maria Radio Al Kresta suggested that Mary was the only Saint more popular than Francis of Assisi. It’s hard to disagree with that statement. An astounding 238 biographies have been written about Saint Francis of Assisi in the last 10 years alone, and virtually every theologian who takes on the task of writing about him emerges from the project amazed by how much they learned about his life and in fact how much more there is to learn.
Born into a life of privilege as the son of a nobleman in the year 1181, it didn’t take long for the grace of God to rid Francis of his desire for the things of this world. His desire for a simpler life coincided with his love for poverty, nature, and simplicity. He would go on to establish the Franciscans, a religious order whose brothers preached the gospel, made poverty holy, and worked tirelessly to bring the word of God into a world that so needs it.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said of Saint Francis of Assisi that “He was a living icon of Christ and thus he made the figure of the Lord present in his time. He did not convince his contemporaries with his words but rather with his life.” At his funeral, Francis requested that the Gospel wherein Jesus washed the feet of his disciples be proclaimed (John 13:2-17). “I leave you an example,” Jesus says in this passage. “That what I have done you also must do.” Must. Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that charity and service to others is not optional. Our Lord tells us we must serve others. Saint Francis of Assisi took it upon himself to show us how.
Through contemplation of the greatest act of self-emptying of them all, Jesus’ death on the cross, Saint Francis of Assisi was able to emulate his Savior. He voluntarily divested himself of all things, choosing service over secularism. In aligning himself so closely with Jesus, he quite literally shared his wounds for the last two years of his life by way of the sacred stigmata.
By emptying himself Saint Francis of Assisi discovered abundant life. This is the recurring lesson of the Gospel; we never give without it coming back to us. Jesus explains that even more will be poured out to those who are generous and charitable when he says “The measure by which you measure will be measured back to you and even more.” Ok(Matthew 7:2). When we live our lives tethered to this promise, we too can possess the joy that Saint Francis had. We too can possess true life.
“Where charity and love prevail, their God is ever found. Brought here together by Christ’s love, by love are we thus bound.”
Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us….