Does the 13th century Francis have anything to say to us in the 21st century? Of course he does. And we can capture his message in 3 incidents from his life.
The first incident took place at La Verna, not far from Florence, Italy, in 1224. Francis was praying to God and suddenly he experienced the stigmata or marks of the crucified Jesus in his hands, feet and side. This incident captures for me the depth of Francis’ prayer life; his was such a close friendship that God gifted him with the stigmata. Francis at La Verna challenges us to intensify our own prayer life with God.
The second incident which captures Francis’ message took place one day as Francis was praying before the crucifix in the tumbledown chapel of San Damiano outside the city walls of Assisi in 1206. He heard Jesus from the crucifix whisper: “Francis, rebuild my house which you see is falling into ruins.” Francis at San Damiano challenges us to build up our family life, our parish life and our community life.
The third incident which captures the message of Francis was his encounter with the leper. As Francis rode on horseback one day along a road, out stepped a leper. He started to ride away. But no! Francis slowly dismounted and embraced the leper. He saw in that leper the brokenness of human beings. We instinctively may want to get away from these people as Francis was tempted to “ride away” (so to speak) from the “leper.” Francis and the leper challenge us to do volunteer work to help the needy. There are so many ways in which we can become healers, peacemakers, comforters to one another, especially the needy.
This planet of ours, in many ways, hasn’t changed much since the days of Francis in the 13th century. La Verna, San Damiano and the leper – three incidents which capture the message of Francis for us today; three incidents which show that Francis was able to cut through all the trivial questions of human life and focus upon three essential questions: our life with God; our life with one another, especially our family community life; and our daily encounter with so much so-called “brokenness” in people.
May these three incidents in the life of Francis, whose feast day we celebrate inspire us to intensify our prayer life with God, to build up our family and community life and to reach out with helping hands to the needy people all around us. May this prayer be “carved” deeply into being: “Jesus Christ has no body now but ours. No hands, no feet on earth but ours. Ours are the eyes through which he looks compassionately on this world. Ours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Ours are the hands through which he helps others. Jesus Christ has no body now on earth but ours.”