October 7 2012
St. Francis SundayThis past Thursday marked the traditional feast day in remembrance of St. Francis, the patron saint of our small parish. Patron saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over areas of life. These patron saints intercede to God for us. We can take our special needs to them and know they will listen to our prayers, and pray to God with us. When a church or parish is named after the saint, it is done so for multiple reasons. To bring honor to the saint. To building a ministry in some form similar to that of the saint’s or example of the life they lived. Obviously, it is held that that special saint is looked upon to help the ministry and church named after them.
Saint Francis, who may very well be one of the best loved and most well-known of all the saints, was born in 1181 (or 1182 depending on the source) in Assisi. His mother, Pica, had him baptized Giovanni, but his father, Pietro Bernardone, a wealthy and prominent textile merchant, called him Francesco because of his love of France. Fancying himself a troubadour and intending to become a knight, Francis grew up to be a romantic ringleader of local youth. But events marked him as one destined to devote himself to God.
One day while joking and laughing with his friends Francis was approached by a beggar who came along crying for alms. Francis, who was very compassionate, gave whatever he had in his pocket to the beggar. His companions mocked him for his charitable act. Dispassion dawned in his heart. The sight of the beggar set him thinking about the poverty and misery of mundane life and he began to give much money to the poor. His father thought that Francis was crazy wasting his money and rebuked him.
When Assisi went to war with neighboring Perugia, Francis joined the effort, but he was taken prisoner. Once released, he intended to take up knighthood again, and despite finding himself in frequent meditation, he set out on another campaign. But he fell sick and gave his armor to a poorly clad knight. Then occurred his famous encounter with the leper. Initially repulsed, Francis was suddenly filled with compassion and embraced the sick man. This was a turning point in Francis’ life.
Soon after, Francis was meditating before the crucifix in the Church of San Damiano when he heard Jesus telling him to repair the church. Looking around, Francis saw the place was indeed in great disrepair, so he took some cloth from his father’s stores, sold it, and went to buy supplies with which to fix the church building. Upon learning of the theft, Pietro had Francis imprisoned, then brought before the bishop. Francis returned the money and all that he had ever received from his father, including the very clothes he was wearing. Renouncing him claiming God his true father, he marched away naked.
Embracing Lady Poverty, as he affectionately referred to the practice, Francis set to task of rebuilding the church himself and soon moved on to fix others. Along the way he began to arouse interest, and he and his two companions moved into a hut next to the leper hospital.
Francis’ charisma and joy were such that he soon attracted a number of followers. He welcomed them, called them Little Brothers, and asked them to take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, as he had also done. When eleven brothers had joined him, Francis petitioned Rome for a new order. Pope Innocent III gave his verbal approval, promising more if the group grew, which it did.
At about this time Francis helped a young woman of means, Clare, escape from her family and, eventually, establish a cloister of Poor Clare’s at San Damiano. Stories are told of the intensity of their holy friendship and conversations and it is said that they had been close friends through their youth and the many years prior to this time. Francis also established a Third Order of Franciscans for lay men and eventually, for lay women as well.
Having composed a Rule for his Little Brothers and having received approval for the Orders of Friars Minor from Rome, Francis determined to end the Crusades. So he traveled to the East to convert the Muslims. But despite his efforts the Crusades continued.
Upon his return, Francis made a retreat to Mount Alverno, where he had been used to praying and fasting. At this time, he had a vision of a suffering seraph, and he felt himself pierced with pity and grief. Upon coming to, he found his own body pierced with the stigmata, the wounds of Christ. (Seraph – From the Book of Isaiah (6.1-8) A term to describe fiery six-winged beings that fly around God's throne singing "holy, holy, holy".)
Soon afterward, Francis began to go blind, and his health deteriorated. His order was splitting in factions, and he eventually isolated himself because of his stringent ideas of poverty. On his deathbed, he asked to be laid naked upon the ground, and he died on October 3, 1226.
Francis was canonized just two years later. His feast day is October 4, and he is the patron of animals, ecology, Italy, and tapestry makers.
Though his life was short, Francis had a profound effect on the Church of his day, not merely revitalizing the religious life but also demonstrating that the friendship and love of God are accessible to everyone. And his life is still an example of how to rejoice in the birthright.
It was reported many times during Francis’ life there were remarkable events of Francis speaking to the animals. There was even a time when St. Francis quieted a flock of noisy birds that were interrupting a religious ceremony! Much to the wonder of all present, the birds remained quiet until Francis’ sermon was complete.
On one occasion, St. Francis was attracted by a flock of birds. Walking into their midst, the birds did not fly off but rather gathered around him. Filled with awe and surprise, St. Francis was inspired to preach to them and give them his blessing, after which they flew off.
One day a rabbit that had been caught in a trap was brought to St. Francis. The friar advised the rabbit to be more alert in the future and set it down to go its way. But the rabbit hopped up onto his lap, desiring to be close to him. So the friar took the rabbit a few steps into the woods and set it down. But it followed St. Francis back to his seat and hopped up on his lap again!
Once a wolf was terrorizing people in the town of Gubbio. St. Francis went to encounter the wolf, which rushed toward him but stopped as the friar made the Sign of the Cross. St. Francis asked the wolf to make peace with the people, promising forgiveness and freedom from harm in return. The wolf meekly followed St. Francis to the town and lived peaceably among the people thereafter.
Not all of us could possibly live a life similar to that of Francis. Some might daydream of being able to, but the real world would very soon steal them back from that dream with all the enticements it offers. However, anyone can live in some semblance of that of St. Francis if we try. St. Francis could not be a better patron for the ministry we teach here. To love all and everyone as God’s creatures.
How often do we take the time to look at the world around us and actually marvel at what we see? How often do we take time to enjoy the fruits of this created world? In so many ways, we can see God’s hand in everything that our human senses can witness. Do we really appreciate this, or do we take it for granted? How often do we turn our hearts away from someone in need or because they do not espouse our views on life?
St. Francis is our guide and example for us to follow. He viewed all things as creatures of God, and in so doing, he knew he was giving honor and worship to God. We too are called to do the same. We may not be called to give up all that we have or give up our families; no God is not calling all of us for that drastic of a move as St. Francis did, but God is calling us to sacrifice ever so little of our time and resources to realize the beauty of life, whether big and small.
We are called today to realize that there is no one unworthy of God’s love and grace. This has been a teaching of ours here in our humble church community for many years. This will not change, and with St. Francis’ help, we will reach out to more who feel called by God to worship Him, but feel out of place where they are or where they have been; that they can come to worship God without the worry of being ostracized or turned away due to who they are, how they live or what political agenda they may follow. St. Francis saw the God in everyone and rightly so. I pray that he will help guide people who need this outlook to our humble community.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.