Friday, October 16, 2015

What's in a Name

St. Francis of Assisi
October 4 we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.  Francis saw the glory-presence-footprints of God everywhere, in all of God’s creatures and creations.

Twice he went off to the wars, and failed miserably to find glory in that.  Then one night he had a dream which compelled him to wrestle with the fundamental questions:  What am I living for?  What is the ultimate purpose of my life?  Gradually, in silence and in prayer, Francis searched for God.  Eventually Francis gave up “his things.”  He experienced his creaturehood, and in that experience of being God’s creation, he found everything.   
Francis began to pursue the Gospel way of life in a literal way.  Eventually, men and women began to gather around him, to live what became known as the Franciscan movement.  
Eight hundred years later, does Francis have anything to say to us?  Of course. In addition to writings like his Canticle of Brother Sun, and his Testament, we can particularly see his message in three incidents of his life.
The first took place at La Verna, near Florence, Italy, in 1224.  Francis was praying and suddenly he experienced the marks of the crucified Jesus in his hands, feet and side.  This incident captures for me the depth of Francis’ prayer; his was such a close friendship that God gifted him with the stigmata.  Francis challenges us always to be in relationship with God, especially through prayer.  
Another, earlier incident took place one day as he prayed before the crucifix in the tumbledown chapel of San Damiano, outside of Assisi.  Francis heard Jesus whisper from the crucifix:  “Francis, rebuild my house which you see is falling into ruins.”  Francis challenges us to build up our households, our parish community and beyond.  How?  By doing good.
A third incident was Francis’s encounter with a leper.  As Francis rode on horseback one day, a man with leprosy appeared.  Francis started to ride away.  But no!  Francis slowly dismounted and embraced the leper.  He saw the brokenness of human beings.  We may want to get away as Francis was tempted, to avoid distressing things.  Francis’s embrace of the leper became a challenge us as well.  There are many ways to become healers, peacemakers, comforters.
La Verna, San Damiano, the leper –  three incidents among many which show that Francis was able to cut through the trivia of human life and focus upon  three essential questions:  our relationship with God; our relationships with one another, especially family; and our positive , pro-active response to the “brokenness” in our fellow human beings and in ourselves.
I believe our Pope Francis chose his pontifical “bridge-building” name well.  May these events and more in the life of Saint Francis, whose feast day we’ve celebrated Sunday, inspire us to intensify our prayer life, to build up our family and to reach out with helping hands to the people all around us.   

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