Today, October 4, is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, arguably one of the most beloved and venerated Catholic saints. By his own admission though, Francis wasn’t always the radical, holy saint we revere. He once said, “I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.” He grew up in a wealthy family in Assisi, Italy, and led a life characterized by pride and sin as a young man. His journey to repentance and conversion unfolded over several stages, but a pivotal moment occurred one day while Francis was praying before a crucifix at a run-down church. He heard Christ speak to him from the cross: “Francis, go and rebuild my Church.” He began to literally rebuild the chapel, but eventually realized however, that his vocation was to rebuild the Church, the human institution that was perilously close to falling apart.
Francis’ answer to that call from God made a huge difference to the Church in his day. We live in a world today similar to Francis’ time: wars, illness, corruption, a culture that encourages us to chase after power and money; and fighting in the Church. Any ‘rebuilding’ of the Church today can only start with each of us, like Francis, taking a single step towards repentance and renewal in our own hearts, then another step, and then another. Francis said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
So, what is necessary and possible for us? First, try to live more simply. While Francis literally renounced his worldly possessions, stripped naked and gave back his family inheritance, we too can take the Lord’s message to heart. Maybe not relinquishing our clothing but rather learning to trust that God will take care of our daily needs. Francis said that those who are overwhelmed with the concerns of the world and the cares of this life “are held captive by the devil.” What are you holding onto that is preventing you from trusting in God’s providence? The first step: Give it up!
Francis once encountered a leper and though the smell and appearance of the leper were repulsive, he got off his horse and gave the man a kiss of peace. Our next step: try to authentically love those around us! Remember, love is not a feeling, it is a decision which manifests in our actions and conduct. Who is the person or persons who get under your skin the most? Our call is not to judge; our call is to love by both our words and actions. “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.”
While there is no record that he ever said that last quote, these words are often attributed to Francis. In fact, Francis had a strong preaching ministry. Francis encouraged others to preach the Gospel. So, our next step should be to do just that. I encourage you to think of the countless ways the Lord has made a positive difference in your life. How are you blessed? People hear a steady stream of negative news daily and need something different. So be ready, willing, and able to share your God story. Be prepared to share your message of love, mercy and salvation with anyone at any time. Remember, you don’t have to literally quote the Gospel to share the Good News.
Francis’ life and mission would not have been so accomplished if not for his profound prayer life and love for God. He spent long hours reflecting on the word of God. He listened for, and then followed God’s instructions to him through prayer. No matter who we are or what we do, God calls us to follow him and to deepen our relationship with him. The source and fuel of Francis’ work arose out of his prayer life and relationship with God, so let a renewed prayer life and relationship with God be the final step to fuel our mission as well.
One more thing, give an animal a hug today!