Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Francesco Bernadone was the son of a wealthy merchant, and he was comfortable among the rich. In fact, he was a bit spoiled. In the Middle Ages, children of privilege were often trained in courtesy and the manners of the court, and Francesco was no exception. He enjoyed luxury, music, and dance. The young man had an attractive personality and often became the life of the party.
As a follower of the ideals of chivalry, the young man also tried his hands at soldiering. In a minor skirmish, Francesco was captured. For one year, he was held in prison. There, his health deteriorated. After his father finally paid a ransom, he returned home and rebuilt his strength. A second time he went out to seek glory as a war hero, but something stopped him short. In a dream, God told Francesco to return home. God took the ideals of the court that Francesco embraced, and God redirected them to service in the name of Jesus Christ.
One day, Francesco sat in prayer before a crucifix in a small chapel near Assisi. God spoke to him, “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruins.” St. Francis of Assisi didn’t carry a diploma from a prestigious seminary. He was a layman. Francis simply tried to embody the way of Jesus Christ. He practiced forgiveness and love. He preached the good news. He suffered. He even prayed with arms outstretched like Christ on the cross. Legend suggests that Francis followed Christ so closely that he received the wounds of our Savior in his own flesh. This man rejected riches, honor, and comfort—anything which distracted him from his calling to repair the Church.
We remember St. Francis for his kindness toward animals and the environment, but that love was rooted in a sense of our being created by God. Hence, he declared “All creatures of our God and King,/Lift up your voice and with us sing, /Alleluia.” Our spiritual obligation cannot be separated from our physical existence. The life of discipleship is practiced in a world of people and things.
God’s church faces multiple challenges in our own day. She faces division and disunity. She often lacks a sense of purpose. She is burdened with error and distraction. She fails to love. The calling of Francis is our calling: “Go and repair my house.” The man from Assisi even shows us the way. Live out your faith in the world. Hold to the truth. Be peacemakers. Love radically. Follow Jesus.