Sunday, October 2, 2016

Practicing Faith

In the Gospel according to Luke, the disciples beg Jesus to bestow upon them the gift of faith.  Jesus says: you already have plenty of faith.  Now practice that faith.

Caravaggio's Francis in Ecstacy
I would like to speak about an extraordinary person of faith whose feast day we celebrate this Tuesday, October 4: Francis of Assisi.

Who was Francis?  He has been described variously as a lover of animals, an environmentalist, a peacemaker, a mystic, a reformer, a poet.

Francis, from a middle class Italian family in the 13th century, went off to the wars in that region; and failed miserably.

Then he had a dream which compelled him to go back to Assisi.  In silence and in prayer, Francis asked, Who are you, oh Lord, and who am I?

Eventually he gave up every “thing” he had; he experienced his own creature-hood, and in that experience, he found an All-good God.

Francis began to pursue the Gospel in a literal fashion.  Eventually men and women began to gather, to form what we know today as the Franciscan family.

Now we may wonder: what does the 13th century Francis have to say to us in the 21st century.  I believe we can capture his message in three incidents.

One incident took place at La Verna, near Florence.  Francis was praying, and suddenly he experienced the stigmata or marks of the crucified Jesus in his hands, feet and side.  This captures the depth of Francis’ relationship with God: such a close friendship that God gifted him with the stigmata.

Francis challenges us to deepen our own relationship with God.  We can do this in many ways, especially through prayer and the liturgy.    I would like to add the family dinner table.   In our own words, thank God for the blessing of one another and for the food we eat.  

Another incident which captures the message of Francis occurred as he prayed before the crucifix in the tumbledown chapel of San Damiano.  He heard the crucified Jesus tell him: “Francis, rebuild my house which you see is falling into ruins.”

Francis at San Damiano challenges us to "build up" our family life.  Holiness in families comes from learning to forgive and ask for forgiveness, and learning to face family challenges, and doing something about them together.

The third incident which captures the message of Francis was this: As he rode one day along a road, out stepped a man with leprosy.  Francis started to ride away.  But no!  Francis slowly climbed down from his horse and embraced the leper.

A leper can be described as someone who lacks wholeness.  We experience this, in ourselves and in other people.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical “Lumen Fidei,” wrote: “How many men and women of faith have found mediators of light in those who suffer!  So it was with Saint Francis of Assisi and the leper, or with Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her poor.”

May the life of Francis inspire us to intensify our life of prayer with God, to "build up" one another especially with our time and talent, and to reach out with a healing hand to those whose lives are broken.

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