Written by Rev. Chris Markert, OLF
“Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.”
Who is St. Francis of Assisi?
October 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, arguably the most beloved and popular of all the saints. Francis was born Giovanni Bernadone but nicknamed Francesco and grew up in a wealthy merchant household. He was well known and well liked in his hometown, notorious for being a playful rascal.
He dreamt of being a noble soldier and knight and joined the military to fight the war between Assisi and Perugia, in which he was captured as a prisoner of war. Although well treated during the ordeal (his father would ultimately pay ransom for his safe return), Francis fell ill during his captivity, which led to a spiritual crisis for the young man.
One day, while walking outside the village of Assisi, Francis stumbled upon a small dilapidated chapel called San Damiano, where he went inside to reflect on what was next in his life. While gazing at the crucifix still hanging in the church, Francis heard a visionary voice beckoning him, “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.”
Taking the vision literally, Francis began rebuilding the sanctuary; the transformation of his faith continued as he traded in his fine clothes for rags and his family’s riches for “Sister Poverty.” Over time, as others were drawn to this new compelling way of life, Francis began to understand that Christ hadn’t called him to rebuild a physical church building; rather his call was to rebuild the church through spiritual renewal. Francis was the original reformer!
Brother Francis began to organize those who sought to follow his simple way. At first it was other men who were drawn to him, and these would be known as the Friars Minor. Soon, a woman named Clare, who was a beloved of Francis, wanted to follow in Francis’ footsteps. With his help, Sister Clare would establish the Poor Clares. There were also women and men who were married, had families, homes, and businesses, but who were interested in the Franciscan way of life. Francis created a third order called the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, who followed the way of Francis and Clare as they were able in their own daily lives.
Connection to the Readings
One of Francis’ most popular writings is the Canticle of the Sun, where Francis encourages praise of God through various aspects of creation. In the Canticle, one can hear echoes of Psalm 148 “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!” (Psalm 148:7-8).
In Galatians 6, St. Paul writes, “From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.” As you may know, St. Francis of Assisi was the first known saint to receive the marks of the stigmata. However, like Paul (“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”) Francis does not seek holiness in external things (“But in this we can glory… in bearing each day the Holy Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”)
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus prays, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…” (Mat 11:25). Jesus thanks God for revealing the Gospel not to the intellectually powerful of this world, but to children— to the simple and poor of the world. Francis came from educated wealth and power, and could have stayed in such an existence. Instead he chose a life in solidarity with the poor and marginalized, simplicity in living and glorying in the beauty of God’s creation. It was this openness to the call of the Gospel that made it possible for Francis to ignite a reformation in his own day and time.
In what ways do you stay open to this call of the Gospel? Where is the Spirit working in you to ignite a new reformation in your life and in the world?