October 8, 2017
St. Francis Sunday
Born in Italy circa 1181, St. Francis of Assisi, though revered today, began his life as a confirmed sinner who was renowned for drinking and partying in his youth. Francis was born to a wealthy family, therefore he was not in want during his youth. After fighting in a battle between Assisi and Perugia, Francis was captured and imprisoned for ransom. He spent nearly a year in prison—awaiting his father's payment—and, according to legend, began receiving visions from God. After his release from prison. During this time, while praying before an old Byzantine crucifix at the church of San Damiano, Francis reportedly heard the voice of Christ, who told him to rebuild the Christian Church and to live a life of extreme poverty. Francis obeyed and devoted himself to Christianity. He began preaching around Assisi and was soon joined by 12 loyal followers.
Later in life, Francis reportedly received a vision that left him with the stigmata of Christ—marks resembling the wounds Jesus Christ suffered when he was crucified—making Francis the first person to receive such holy wounds. As we know, during his life he also developed a deep love of nature and animals and is known as the patron saint of the environment and animals.
One day, as legend has it, while riding on a horse in the local countryside, Francis encountered a leper. Prior to the war, Francis would have run from the leper, but on this occasion, his behavior was very different. Viewing the leper as a symbol of moral conscience—or as Jesus incognito, according to some religious scholars—he embraced and kissed him, later describing the experience as a feeling of sweetness in his mouth. After this incident, Francis felt an indescribable freedom. His earlier lifestyle had lost all of its appeal.
Subsequently, Francis, now in his early 20s, began turning his focus toward God. Instead of working, he spent an ever-increasing amount of time at a remote mountain hideaway as well as in old, quiet churches around Assisi, praying, looking for answers, and helping nurse lepers.
Some regarded Francis as a madman or a fool, but others viewed him as one of the greatest examples of how to live the Christian ideal since Jesus Christ himself. Whether he was really touched by God, or simply a man misinterpreting hallucinations brought on by mental illness and/or poor health, Francis of Assisi quickly became well-known throughout the Christian world.
Francis's embrace of Christ-like poverty was a radical notion at the time and would be even more radical in modern time. Francis set out on a mission to restore Jesus Christ's own, original values to the now-decadent church. With his incredible charisma, he drew thousands of followers to him. They listened to Francis's sermons and joined in his way of life; his followers became known as Franciscan friars.
Francis of Assisi died on October 3, 1226, at the age of 44, in Assisi, Italy. He was canonized as a saint just two years after his death, on July 16, 1228, by his former protector, Pope Gregory IX. Today, Francis has a lasting resonance with millions of followers throughout the world.
Certainly, St. Francis led an un-conventual life to be sure. Can you imagine someone in similar, yet in a modern manner, choosing a life such as St. Francis chose? Not something the average person could do for sure. Yet, some men and women still do throughout the world, though in declining numbers.
However, let’s be honest, I am sure St. Francis would not recommend to each of us to take such an extreme change of life. Still, he is an example to each of us to emulate many ways. We may not have riches to leave and take on poverty, but some of us do indeed live in simple forms. We may not be given the grace of the stigmata, but some of us do live with other forms of sacrifice in our lives. We may not have the various spiritual gifts he had, such as the gift to communicate with animals, but almost all of us have a gift, even though many of us have not learned what it is and/or have not learned how to use it. Some gifts are as simple as the gift of making someone laugh, or listen to someone who needs an empathetic ear, or maybe something less common and more charismatic.
Still, as the patron of our humble chapel, St. Francis does present us an example for us each to follow; he presents an example that is in imitation of Christ. He calls us as a prime example that what Jesus calls us to do in our lives and for our relationships with each other is not only good, but something that all of us are very capable of living out in our lives as well.
Francis, following in the example of Christ, ministered to the lepers and undesirables in the world. He lived a simple life, yet a complex one for many of us fail to understand. He was so filled with faith, that the Lord blessed him with the stigmata; the wounds of Christ. The closest we have in our modern times to have these marks, was Padre Pio who died in 1968. To have this miracle happen to oneself, is beyond imagining.
Soon, it will be our 50th anniversary here in our humble chapel. Like St. Francis’ ministry, we minister as we can with humble means. But we do minister. Like Francis, we welcome the “lepers” of society. We know there are few true lepers in comparison to Francis’ time, but we have our modern day “lepers”. Those either in society who are shunned or less fortunate. Those in the Church who are made to feel unwelcome because they are different; whether it be in thought or action.
It has been my dream, as most of you know, to take St. Francis Chapel to the next level. There are so many people who are made to feel as though they are lepers - and we need to follow Christ’s example; we need to follow St. Francis’ example and not be afraid to touch them, whether in their physical, psychological or social pain. We must not leave anyone out. We offer an openness that is welcoming. We could be like some who would argue about who should be allowed access to the Sacraments or not, but this does an injustice to those who need the church.
As it has been stated before, and I state again – if we are to insist on perfection of our members, the sanctuaries will become empty because no one is perfect except Christ. As it is, the Church is here for ALL people – perfect or flawed – but we are all flawed my friends – we are all flawed. We all need the merciful love of Christ in our lives and we must make our door open to all the modern day “lepers”. The divorced “leper”, the addicted “leper”, the LGBT “leper”, the “leper” who just had an abortion, the refugee “leper”, the homeless “leper”, the any type you can think of “leper”. We must be Francises to them all.
We cannot correct the ills of society unless we are willing to become passionate about it. We cannot correct the ills of society if we are unwilling to get our hands dirty. Yes, we live in a very fast paced world, much unlike that of Christ’s and St. Francis’ time, but we still can spare a little time; a little ear to listen; a little support to the misunderstood; a few coins or bills to the one on the street without judging what put these people them. None of us can do everything; but we can all do something!
Let us go forth from this day with a commitment to the “lepers” and non-“lepers” alike. There is a prayer attributed to St. Teresa of Calcutta that which she often prayed, “Lord, open our eyes, that we may see You in our brothers and sisters. Lord, open our ears, that we may hear the cries of the hungry, the cold, the frightened, the oppressed. Lord, open our hearts, that we may love each other as You love us. Renew in us Your Spirit Lord, free us and make us one.” And in so doing this work she also said when asked how she was able to do so, “It is God’s work that has done it, not my work. I am like a pencil in His hand … The pencil has only to be used.”
Let me finish off with a story that I read from one of my Lectio Divina booklets I read each day, in which Keith Osmun wrote:
The meeting with the eighth-grade boys was getting nowhere. They seemed more interested in making jokes and distracting one another than in deciding what to do on their service day. Finally, the leader sitting next to me had had enough. “Guys, stop!” he began. “You’re in eighth grade now. You’re the leaders of this junior-high ministry. Those in the lower grades and the friends you bring are going to look to you as examples. We need you all to be invested.”
Sometimes we adults in the church need to hear the same admonition. We might think that we can just show up but not actually participate. I used to make the mistake of thinking that my witness of the gospel to others consisted solely of telling them about Jesus and bringing them to church. Then the rest of the work would be done by the Holy Spirit and the ministry staff.
That’s not the picture that our reading in Mark [Mark 6:35-44] gives us. The disciples told Jesus to send the people to buy food. But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.” Jesus wanted the disciples to be part of his work. Despite our faults and limited resources, God can do miraculous things when, like the disciples, we invest ourselves in God’s work.
And that is what we are called to do. That is what Christ is calling us to do. It is also what St. Francis came to know and did. We need to be passionate about this. Christ doesn’t expect us to be like Him, because we are mere humans, but He does want us to follow His example. Most of us do not, and may never have, the gifts that St. Francis had, but what we are called to do is emulate his faith and work as best as we can. That is all that is being asked of us; and we can do it! Let’s move mountains!
Let us pray.
That the church will go forth toward those who are wounded and in need of an attentive ear, forgiveness, and love. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That God will direct the minds and hearts of those in public office for the true peace and freedom of all. We pray to the Lord.
For refugees and displaced persons; that they will be kept safe and be given a new home. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish will truly live as God’s people, following in the imitation of Christ and His servant, St. Francis. We pray to the Lord.
For all those who lack meaning, purpose, our good direction in life; that Jesus will draw close to them with his love. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for peace and eternal rest for the victims of the latest shooting in Las Vegas; and we additionally ask that love and comfort may come to those family members and friends left behind after this terrible incident. We pray to the Lord.
For our servicemen and women throughout the world, that they be kept safe from harm while serving our country’s interests. Grant rest eternal on the soldiers who were ambushed in Nigeria, and peace and comfort to their families and friends. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the peace and eternal rest for Patty Maruszewski mother of our parishioner, Stephanie Maruszewski, and we also ask peace and comfort for Stephanie and her sisters and all family members and friends in this difficult time of loss. We pray to the Lord.
And as always, we ask for God’s blessings on our family members and friends who are still struggling with illnesses and other needs; that they may find comfort and healing and hope. We pray to the Lord.
Let me close with one of my many prayers that I say each day. I feel it fits into today’s message.
Father God, Your wisdom, power, and goodness are beyond my full realization. May understanding this keep me humble – especially in my daily dealings with Your people – my brothers and sisters, and in my acceptance of Your will without questions, anger or doubt.
I thank You for all you have given me for Your forgiveness, for my faith, for hope, especially for Your love and the love of my family and friends. I also thank You for all You have not given me, because through lacking, my need for You is made more evident.
God, I am unworthy and fail to act out of love time and time again. Forgive me for knowing Your will and choosing otherwise. Forgive me for my selfishness, pride, jealousy, greed, lust, vanity, laziness, dishonesty, prejudice, anger, impatience, and hatred. Forgive me for my insecurity and lack of faith in You.
Father, through Your Son, send Your Spirit to guide me through this day. Give me the wisdom to seek You always and in every one, give me the power to resist evil which preys on the weakness of my human nature. Give me the strength and courage to be more like Your Son every day. Help me to love and forgive those who hurt me, or whose actions I don’t understand. Help me to see You in them, to see their pain and suffering and to see their need for love. Please bless and protect my family. Please bless and protect my friends. Bring us all closer to You each day. Grant us peace and through the intercession of our Lady Mary we pray for world peace. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA
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