Category Archives: Francis Commentary

Francis — Setting the Record Straight.

St. Francis of Assisi — Setting the Record Straight
By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio – articles – email) | Oct 03, 2014

October 4 marks the memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, a feast honoring one of the most well-known saints in the Church. It seems that everyone knows about St. Francis, or at least they claim they know him. This saint has become even more well-known due to our current pope taking the name of Francis. For this feast day, may we all ask for the intercession of St. Francis for our Holy Father. Then shall we set the record straight on a few areas of St. Francis?

Excuse the rant, but it is continually irksome to see so many aspects, quotes and anecdotes mistakenly attributed to St. Francis. If I were to compile a quick composite modern (incorrect) sketch of St. Francis, he would be a barefoot, soft-talking, sentimental, free-thinking, anti-church, head-in-the-clouds, tree and animal hugger and social activist. And really, while there might be some outward appearance to give people these ideas, so much of this portrait is very mistaken. I can’t address all the areas in this small space, but I did want to correct a few aspects of mistaken identity.

Who really was St. Francis of Assisi? He was a man who wholeheartedly answered Jesus’ call to follow Him. One could strip down his life to three essential elements: loving Jesus above all else, living the Gospel completely, and preaching the Gospel by his words and life.
Literally Living the Gospel

St. Francis lived the Gospel to the letter. Reading the different versions of the Rule for the Friars Minor, the instructions are all based on the Gospel. Initially the Pope did not approve his Rule because it was too difficult. How could an order not own anything? His first rule from 1209 is lost, but it is thought it simply worked together key teachings from the Gospel as the later rules reflect, such as:

• Matthew 19:21: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
• Matthew 16:24: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
• Luke 14:26: “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
• Mathew 19:29: “And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”
• Luke  9:62:  “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
• Matthew 6:16: “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

It is easier to read the Good News than to put it completely into practice. How wonderful that the Church celebrates two saints in a matter of days who found and lived the heart of the Gospel. In worldly eyes, Francis was a radical. Because he lived the Gospel, he was considered crazy. Yes, he was crazy for love of God.

St. Francis didn’t live a soft life. He was demanding of himself and his brothers, and lived so austerely that we modern people cannot handle one finger’s worth of his personal mortifications.

And he certainly wasn’t against the Church. He respected the clergy, was obedient to the Church, especially the pope. If he truly was anti-church, he wouldn’t have set up rules and three orders within the Church. He didn’t come to abolish the Church, but he brought in a breath of fresh air, reminding people that living our Faith means loving Jesus and following the Good News. These coincide with the Liturgy, but often worldly matters can overshadow the heart of living the Faith.

Two October Saints Embracing the Heart of the Gospel

Similar to St.Thérèse, St. Francis always preserved that childhood wonder. He lived the same Gospel message we heard twice this week: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). Today’s Gospel reinforces that message:  “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike.”

I have often thought that Francis would have acted like Will Ferrell in the movie Elf. Ferrell acted childlike in the world, stopping and marveling at wonders, both great and small. Everything is new and amazing, and there is no worry or rush. There is only time to stop, observe, and wonder. Children do this; grown-ups often forget. We all have to embrace and find that wonder. From then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI):

Wonder should not be lost – the capacity, that is, to marvel and to listen, to ask not only about what is functional but equally to perceive the harmony of the spheres and to rejoice precisely that it is no obvious use to us (Ratzinger, Journey to Easter).

St. Thérèse manifested a smaller, less visible way of embracing the Gospel. She was bound and restricted by obedience and physical limitations that she couldn’t do the great things of austerity, like fasting and penance and praying all day, like St. Francis. But can you see their connection, their similarity? Loving the Gospel, loving Jesus above all things and seeing Jesus in everyone and everything, and allowing wonder and childlike confidence in their lives!

Patron of Animals and Environmentalism

Ah, St. Francis! One would think he was the patron of PETA and Serra Club by all the things attributed him with nature. He was such a tree hugger, right? He’s become larger than life in the legends of being kind to animals, and praising the different aspects of nature, that people have jumped to conclusion that he’s a staunch environmentalist.

Francis loved Jesus above all things. He was united in prayer with Christ almost continually. Because of his love of God, this extended in recognizing God’s handiwork in all of creation. Seeing the beauty and marvels in nature was another way to continually praise and love God. This wasn’t an elevation or worship of creation, but a respect and love of God’s gift for man. Gifts of nature brought thoughts of God, and united him with God in prayer.

Francis was not opposed to using the gifts of creation for man’s purpose, but he always recognized that is what they are: gifts, and only temporary gifts. We thank our Giver through prayer and are to be good stewards of our gifts, as in the parable of the Talents. So yes, Francis is an effective intercessor for us for use of the gifts of nature, but we must recognize that he didn’t elevate nature higher than God nor man, but recognized nature as a tool and a gift, and that man must be good stewards.

Blessing of animals on the feast of St. Francis is a newer sacramental. There are blessings of animals in the older form of the Roman Ritual, but they were not nested around the feast of St. Francis. The newer Book of Blessings includes a new blessing of animals that can be used on the feast of St. Francis.

St. Francis: Man of Few Written Words

St. Francis wrote very little, and so few of his words have been recorded. Two primary sources, St. Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of Sources and Francis and Clare: The Complete Works are only one-volume works, neither overly large. And yet, there are quite a few things attributed to St. Francis.

While it is a beautiful hymn, the Prayer of St. Francis, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace, is not a prayer or hymn written by St. Francis. It is written in a style similar to St. Francis, but not by him at all.

“Preach without ceasing; use words only if necessary” is a quote extensively and falsely attributed to St. Francis. St. Francis did not say this. He did preach, and used his words often. He also believed in using his good example, and never preached differently from what he practiced. There is a story attributed to him about how he took a brother into a town to preach. They walked through the whole town without saying a word. The brother asked when they were going to preach, and St. Francis responded that they already did. Last night I pored through the Omnibus and I couldn’t find the reference to the story, so I’m not even sure if that is based on the historical writings. Perhaps the quote has been formed based on the story, but please, let’s not say St. Francis said this! Just because it can be found on the Internet does not necessarily mean it is true.

Honoring and Imitating the real St. Francis

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy emphasizes how we must carefully present the saints in the correct light:
231. It is always necessary to ensure that the feast days of the Saints are carefully prepared both liturgically and pastorally.
Such requires a correct presentation of the objectives of the cult of the Saints, i.e. the glorification of God “in His Saints”318, a commitment to live the Christian life following the example of Christ, of whose mystical Body the Saints are preeminent members.
It is also necessary to represent the figure of the Saint in a correct manner. Bearing in mind the prospect of contemporary society, this presentation should not only contain an account of the legendary events associated with the Saint, or of his thaumaturgic powers, but should also include an evaluation of his significance for the Christian life, the greatness of his sanctity, the effectiveness of his Christian witness, and of the manner in which his particular charism has enriched the Church.

Legends of St. Francis abound. Everyone knows of his stories with the Wolf of Gubbio, his preaching to the birds, and admonishing the swallows. While it is a natural outpouring of the cult of a saint to have legends and stories, these need to be portrayed not as signs of wonder done by one man. The stories need to portray a saint who was humble, lived the Gospel, loved Jesus above all things. The stories show Francis recognized the hand of God in all of nature, and respected God’s gifts to man. In that holy humility, God worked wonders through St. Francis. All the miraculous wonders do not reflect Francis, but they point back to God. So in finding appropriate stories for our children about St. Francis, measure whether the reader will come away with wanting to imitate the saint. Will they praying for his intercession? Will the reader want to love God more and want to be a saint just like St. Francis? Do the wonders portrayed show the hand of God, or is it all explained as either a supernatural or natural phenomenon performed by Francis?

So on this feast of St. Francis, let us recognize the true and living saint from Assisi. Let us not put words in his mouth and assign false attributes to him. St. Francis lived a uncomplicated life, following the Gospel to the letter.  It might have been simple, but it was radical and difficult. May we ask his intercession to see how we can imitate Francis and live the Gospel in our lives everyday.

Benedict XVI on Clare of Assisi

Clare of Assisi: a Decisive Impulse to Church Renewal

“The Whole Church Is Indebted to Courageous Women”
http://visnews-en.blogspot.com/2010/09/clare-of-assisi-decisive-impulse-to.html
VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience held in Paul VI Hall.

Dear brothers and sisters,

One of the most beloved saints is without a doubt St. Clare of Assisi, who lived in the 13th century and was a contemporary of St. Francis. Her testimony shows us how the whole Church is indebted to courageous women rich in faith like her, capable of giving decisive impetus to the renewal of the Church.

Then who was Clare of Assisi? To respond to this question we have reliable sources: Not only the ancient biographies, such as that of Thomas of Celano, but also the acts from the canonization process promoted by the Pope only a few months after Clare’s death, which contain the testimonies of those who lived with her for a long time.

Born in 1193, Clare belonged to a wealthy aristocratic family. She gave up nobility and wealth to live poorly and humbly, adopting the way of life proposed by St. Francis of Assisi. Although her family was planning her marriage to an important personality — as was the practice in that time — with a bold gesture inspired by her profound desire to follow Christ and her admiration for Francis, Clare left her family home when she was 18 and, accompanied by a friend, Bona di Guelfuccio, she secretly met the Friars Minor in the small church of the Portiuncula. It was the afternoon of Palm Sunday of 1211.

Amid general shock, a highly symbolic gesture took place: While his companions held lighted torches in their hands, Francis cut her hair and Clare was clothed in a coarse penitential habit. From that moment she became the virgin bride of Christ, humble and poor, and she consecrated herself totally to him. Over the course of history innumerable women like Clare and her companions have been fascinated by Christ who, in the beauty of his Divine Person, fills their hearts. And the entire Church, through the mystic nuptial vocation of consecrated virgins, shows what she will always be: the beautiful and pure Bride of Christ.

In one of the four letters that Clare sent to St. Agnes of Prague, the daughter of the king of Bohemia who wished to follow in her footsteps, she speaks of Christ, her beloved Spouse, with nuptial expressions, which might be surprising, but which are moving: “Loving him, you are chaste, touching him, you will be more pure, letting yourself be possessed by him you are virgin. His power is stronger, his generosity loftier, his appearance more beautiful, his love gentler and all grace finer. Now you are enfolded in his arms, he who has adorned your breast with precious stones … and has crowned you with a crown of gold marked with the sign of sanctity” (First letter: FF, 2862).

Above all at the beginning of her religious experience, Clare had in Francis of Assisi not only a teacher whose instruction she would follow, but also a fraternal friend. The friendship between these two saints is a very beautiful and important element. In fact, when two pure souls meet, inflamed by the same love of God, they draw from their mutual friendship a very strong stimulus to undertake the way of perfection. Friendship is one of the noble and lofty human sentiments that divine grace purifies and transfigures. Like St. Francis and St. Clare, other saints have also experienced a profound friendship on the same path toward Christian perfection, such as St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal. And it is precisely St. Francis de Sales who writes: “It is lovely to be able to love on earth as one loves in heaven, and to learn to love one another in this world as we will eternally in the next. I am not speaking here of the simple love of charity, because we must have this for all people; I am speaking of spiritual friendship, in the ambit of which two, three or more persons exchange devotion, spiritual affections, and truly become one spirit” (Introduction to the Devout Life, III, 19).

After spending a period of some months in other monastic communities, resisting the pressures of her relatives who in the beginning did not approve of her choice, Clare established herself with her first companions in the church of San Damiano, where the Friars Minor had prepared a small convent for them. She lived in that monastery for more than 40 years, until her death, which occurred in 1253. A firsthand description has come down to us of how these women lived in those years at the beginning of the Franciscan movement. It is a report full of admiration from a Flemish bishop, James of Vitry, on a visit to Italy, who states that he met a great number of men and women, of all social classes, who “leaving everything for Christ, fled from the world. They are called Friars Minor and Sisters Minor and are held in great regard by the Lord Pope and by the cardinals. … The women … dwell together in various hospices not far from cities. They do not receive anything, but live from the work of their hands. And they are pained and profoundly disturbed because they are honored more than they would like, by clerics and laity” (Letter of October 1216: FF, 2205.2007).

James of Vitry keenly understood a characteristic trait of Franciscan spirituality about which Clare was very sensitive: radical poverty associated with total trust in Divine Providence. Because of this, she acted with great determination, obtaining from Pope Gregory IX or, probably already from Pope Innocent III, the so-called Privilegium Paupertatis (cf. FF, 3279). Based on this, Clare and her companions of San Damiano could not own any material property. It was truly an extraordinary exception in regard to existing canon law, and the ecclesiastical authorities of that time granted it, appreciating the fruits of evangelical sanctity that they recognized in the way that Clare and her sisters lived. This also shows that in the Medieval centuries, the role of women was not secondary but rather was considerable. In this regard, it is appropriate to recall that Clare was the first woman in the history of the Church who composed a written rule, subject to the Pope’s approval, so that the charism of Francis of Assisi would be preserved in all the feminine communities that were being established already in great numbers in her time, and that wished to be inspired in Francis’ and Clare’s example.

In the convent of San Damiano, Clare practiced heroically the virtues that should distinguish every Christian: humility, a spirit of piety and penance, charity. Even though she was the superior, she wished to serve the sick sisters herself, subjecting herself also to very humble tasks: Charity, in fact, overcomes all resistance and one who loves makes every sacrifice with joy. Her faith in the Real Presence in the Eucharist was so great that on two occasions, prodigious events were witnessed. With the exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament alone, she succeeded in repelling the Saracen mercenary soldiers who were about to attack the convent of San Damiano and devastate Assisi.

These episodes, like other miracles about which records were kept, drove Pope Alexander IV to canonize her only two years after her death, in 1255, sketching a eulogy of her in the bull of canonization in which we read: “How vivid is the force of this light and how strong is the clarity of this luminous source. Truly, this light was enclosed in the retreat of the cloistered life, and outside it radiated luminous brilliance; it was recollected in a small monastery, and expanded outside throughout the vast world. It was kept inside and spread outside. Clare, in fact, hid herself, but her life was revealed to all. Clare was silent, but her fame cried out” (FF, 3284).

And this is precisely the way of things, dear friends: It is the saints who change the world for the better, they transform it in a lasting way, injecting in it energies that only love inspired by the Gospel can arouse. The saints are the great benefactors of humanity!

St. Clare’s spirituality, the synthesis of her proposal of sanctity, is gathered in the fourth letter to St. Agnes of Prague. St. Clare uses the image of the mirror, which was a very widespread image in the Middle Ages, rooted in the patristics. And she invites her Prague friend to look at herself in that mirror of perfection of every virtue, which is the Lord himself. She writes: “Happy certainly is she who is granted to enjoy this sacred union, to adhere with the depth of the heart [to Christ], to the One whose beauty all the blessed multitudes of the heavens admire incessantly, whose affection impassions, whose contemplation restores, whose goodness satiates, whose gentleness fills, whose memory shines gently, from whose perfume the dead will return to life and whose glorious vision will make blessed all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. And given that he is the splendor of glory, pure whiteness of the eternal light and spotless mirror, look every day in this mirror, oh queen, bride of Jesus Christ, and scrutinize continually in him his face, so that you will thus be able to adorn yourself completely within and without … shining in this mirror are blessed poverty, holy humility and ineffable charity” (Fourth Letter: FF, 2901-2903).

Thankful to God who has given us the saints who speak to our heart and provide us an example of Christian life to imitate, I would like to conclude with the same words of blessing that St. Clare composed for her sisters and that still today the Poor Clares, who carry out a valuable role in the Church with their prayer and their work, keep with great devotion. They are an expression from which arises all the tenderness of her spiritual maternity: “I bless you in my life and after my death, as I can and more than I can, with all the blessings with which the Father of mercies blesses and will bless in heaven and on earth his sons and daughters, and with which a spiritual father and a spiritual mother bless and will bless their spiritual sons and daughters. Amen” (FF, 2856).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis today deals with Saint Clare of Assisi, the great mystic, friend of Saint Francis and foundress of the Poor Clare Nuns. Born to a family of means, Clare chose to embrace a life of radical poverty, chastity and trust in God’s providence; received by Francis, she consecrated herself completely to Christ and, together with her companions, embraced the common life in the Church of San Damiano in Assisi. The spiritual friendship between Clare and Francis reminds us of how the great saints have found in such friendships a powerful impetus to greater love of Christ and renewed strength in the pursuit of the way of perfection. Clare’s Rule, the first written by a woman, sought to preserve and foster the Franciscan charism in the growing number of women’s communities which followed the example of Francis and her own. Her spirituality, nourished by the Eucharist, was based on the loving contemplation of Christ as the source and perfection of every virtue. Saint Clare shows us the value of consecrated virginity as an image of the Church’s love for her divine Spouse, and the decisive role played by courageous and faith-filled women to the Church’s renewal in every age.

Our Lady of Sorrows
I now wish to greet with particular affection young people, the sick and newlyweds. Today we remember Our Lady of Sorrows, who with faith stayed next to the cross of her Son. Dear young people, like Mary, do not be afraid to stay next to the cross. The Lord will instill in you the courage to overcome every obstacle in your daily life. And may you, dear sick people, be able to find in Mary consolation and support to learn the salvific value of suffering from the crucified Christ. You, dear newlyweds, turn with confidence in moments of difficulty to the Virgin of Sorrows, who, with her maternal intercession, will help you to face them.

Catechesis by Holy Father: Saint Francis

The World Seen From Rome
January 28th, 2010
Saint Francis of Assisi – catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI held during the general audience 27.01.2010 (tr. by Zenit.org)

Dear brothers and sisters,

In a recent catechesis, I already illustrated the providential role that the Order of Friars Minor and the Order of Preachers, founded respectively by St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic Guzmán, had in the renewal of the Church of their time. Today I would like to present to you the figure of Francis, an authentic “giant” of holiness, who continues to fascinate very many people of every age and every religion.

“A son is born to the world.” With these words, in the Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto XI), the greatest Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, alludes to Francis’ birth, which occurred at the end of 1181 or the beginning of 1182, in Assisi. Belonging to a wealthy family — his father was a textile merchant — Francis enjoyed a carefree adolescence and youth, cultivating the chivalrous ideals of the time. When he was 20 he took part in a military campaign, and was taken prisoner. He became ill and was released. After his return to Assisi, a slow process of spiritual conversion began in him, which led him to abandon gradually the worldly lifestyle he had practiced until then.

Striking at this time are the famous episodes of the meeting with the leper — to whom Francis, getting off his horse, gave the kiss of peace; and the message of the Crucifix in the little church of San Damiano. Three times the crucified Christ came to life and said to him: “Go, Francis, and repair my Church in ruins.” This simple event of the Word of the Lord heard in the church of San Damiano hides a profound symbolism. Immediately, St. Francis is called to repair this little church, but the ruinous state of this building is a symbol of the tragic and disturbing situation of the Church itself at that time, with a superficial faith that does not form and transform life, with a clergy lacking in zeal, with the cooling off of love; an interior destruction of the Church that also implied a decomposition of unity, with the birth of heretical movements.

However, at the center of this Church in ruins is the Crucified and he speaks: he calls to renewal, he calls Francis to manual labor to repair concretely the little church of San Damiano, symbol of the more profound call to renew the Church of Christ itself, with his radical faith and his enthusiastic love for Christ.

This event, which probably occurred in 1205, makes one think of another similar event that happened in 1207: the dream of Pope Innocent III. He saw in a dream that the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Mother Church of all churches, was collapsing and a small and insignificant religious supported the church with his shoulders so that it would not collapse. It is interesting to note, on one hand, that it is not the Pope who helps so that the church will not collapse, but a small and insignificant religious, whom the Pope recognizes in Francis who visited him. Innocent III was a powerful Pope, of great theological learning, as well as of great political power, yet it was not for him to renew the Church, but for the small and insignificant religious: It is St. Francis, called by God.

On the other hand, however, it is important to note that St. Francis does not renew the Church without or against the Pope, but only in communion with him. The two realities go together: the Successor of Peter, the bishops, the Church founded on the succession of the Apostles and the new charism that the Holy Spirit created at this moment to renew the Church. True renewal grows together.

Let us return to St. Francis’ life. Because his father Bernardone reproved him for excessive generosity to the poor, Francis, with a symbolic gesture, and before the bishop of Assisi, stripped himself of his clothes, thus intending to renounce his paternal inheritance: As at the moment of creation, Francis had nothing, but only the life that God gave him, and into whose hands he entrusted himself. Then he lived as a hermit until, in 1208, another fundamental event took place in the journey of his conversion. Hearing a passage of the Gospel of Matthew — Jesus’ discourse to the Apostles sent on mission — Francis feels he is called to live in poverty and to dedicate himself to preaching. Other companions associated themselves to him and, in 1209, he went to Rome, to submit to the Pope the project of a new form of Christian life. He was given a paternal reception by the great Pontiff who, enlightened by the Lord, intuited the divine origin of the movement awakened by Francis. The Poverello of Assisi had understood that every charism given by the Holy Spirit is placed at the service of the Body of Christ, which is the Church; hence, he always acted in full communion with the ecclesiastical authority. In the life of saints there is no opposition between a prophetic charism and the charism of government and, if some tension is created, they must wait patiently for the times of the Holy Spirit.

In reality, some historians in the 19th century and also in the last century tried to create behind the Francis of tradition, a so-called historical Francis, just as there is a desire to create behind the Jesus of the Gospels, a so-called historical Jesus. Such a historical Francis would not have been a man of the Church, but a man linked immediately only to Christ, a man who wished to create a renewal of the people of God, without canonical forms and without the hierarchy. The truth is that St. Francis really had a very immediate relationship with Jesus and with the Word of God, which he wished to follow sine glossa, exactly as it is, in all its radicalism and truth. It is also true that initially he did not have the intention of creating an order with the necessary canonical forms, but, simply, with the Word of God and the presence of the Lord, he wished to renew the people of God, to call them again to listening to the Word and to literal obedience to Christ. Moreover, he knew that Christ never is “mine” but always is “ours,” that “I” cannot have Christ and “I” cannot reconstruct against the Church, his will and his teaching — but only in communion with the Church, built on the succession of the Apostles, is obedience to the Word of God also renewed.

It is also true that he did not intend to create a new order, but only to renew the people of God for the Lord who comes. But he understood with suffering and pain that everything must have its order, that even the law of the Church is necessary to give shape to renewal and thus he really inserted himself totally, with the heart, in the communion of the Church, with the Pope and the bishops. He knew always that the center of the Church is the Eucharist, where the Body and Blood of Christ are made present. Through the priesthood, the Eucharist is the Church. Where priesthood, and Christ and communion of the Church go together, only there does the Word of God also dwell. The true historical Francis and the Francis of the Church speaks precisely in this way also to non-believers, to believers of other confessions and religions.

Francis and his friars, ever more numerous, established themselves in the Porziuncola, or church of Saint Mary of the Angels, sacred place par excellence of Franciscan spirituality. Also Clare, a young lady of Assisi of a noble family, placed herself in Francis’ school. Thus the Second Franciscan Order originated, that of the Poor Clares, another experience destined to bear outstanding fruits of sanctity in the Church.

The successor of Innocent III, Pope Honorius III, with his bull “Cum dilecti” of 1218, also upheld the singular development of the first Friars Minor, who were opening their missions in several countries of Europe, and even in Morocco. In 1219 Francis obtained permission to go to speak with the Muslim Sultan Melek-el-Kamel in Egypt, and also to preach the Gospel of Jesus there. I want to underline this episode of the life of St. Francis, which is very timely. At a time in which there was under way a clash between Christianity and Islam, Francis, armed deliberately only with his faith and his personal meekness, pursued with efficacy the way of dialogue. The chronicles tell us of a benevolent and cordial reception by the Muslim Sultan. It is a model that also today should inspire relations between Christians and Muslims: to promote a dialogue in truth, in reciprocal respect and in mutual understanding (cf. “Nostra Aetate,” 3).

It seems, then, that in 1220 Francis visited the Holy Land, thus sowing a seed that was to bear much fruit: his spiritual sons, in fact, made of the places in which Jesus lived a privileged realm of their mission. With gratitude I think today of the great merits of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Returning to Italy, Francis entrusted the government of the order to his vicar, Friar Pietro Cattani, while the Pope entrusted the order, which continued gathering more followers, to the protection of Cardinal Ugolino, the future Supreme Pontiff Gregory IX. For his part the founder, totally dedicated to preaching, which he carried out with great success, wrote a Rule, later approved by the Pope.

In 1224, in the hermitage of La Verna, Francis saw the Crucified in the form of a seraphim and from the encounter with the crucified seraphim, he received the stigmata; he thus became one with the crucified Christ: a gift, hence, which expresses his profound identification with the Lord.

Francis’ death — his transitus — occurred on the evening of Oct. 3, 1226, at the Porziuncola. After blessing his spiritual sons, he died, lying on the naked earth. Two years later Pope Gregory IX inscribed him in the register of saints. A short time later, a large basilica was raised in Assisi in his honor, still today a destination for very many pilgrims, who can venerate the tomb of the saint and enjoy Giotto’s frescoes, a painter who illustrated in a magnificent way the life of Francis.

It has been said that Francis represents an alter Christus, he was truly a living icon of Christ. He was even called “Jesus’ brother.” Indeed, this was his ideal: to be like Jesus; to contemplate the Christ of the Gospel, to love him intensely and to imitate his virtues. In particular, he wished to give a fundamental value to interior and exterior poverty, teaching it also to his spiritual sons. The first Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount — blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3) — found a luminous fulfillment in the life and in the words of St. Francis.

Truly, dear friends, the saints are the best interpreters of the Bible; they, incarnating in their lives the Word of God, render it more than attractive, so that it really speaks to us. Francis’ witness, who loved poverty to follow Christ with dedication and total liberty, continues to be also for us an invitation to cultivate interior poverty to grow in trust of God, uniting also a sober lifestyle and detachment from material goods.

In Francis, love for Christ is expressed in a special way in adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. In Franciscan sources one reads moving expressions, such as this: “The whole of humanity fears, the whole universe trembles and heaven exults, when on the altar, in the hand of the priest, there is Christ, the Son of the living God. O wonderful favor! O sublime humility, that the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, so humbles himself as to hide himself for our salvation, under the low form of bread” (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, Editrici Francescane, Padua, 2002, 401).

In this Year for Priests, it pleases me also to recall a recommendation addressed by Francis to priests: “When you wish to celebrate Mass, certainly in a pure way, carry out with reverence the true sacrifice of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, 399).

Francis always showed great deference to priests, and recommended that they always be respected, even in the case when, at the personal level, they are not very worthy. He cherished, as motivation for this profound respect, the fact that they have received the gift of consecrating the Eucharist. Dear brothers in the priesthood, let us never forget this teaching: the holiness of the Eucharist asks us to be pure, to live in a consistent way with the mystery we celebrate.

From the love of Christ is born love of people and also of all God’s creatures. Here is another characteristic trait of Francis’ spirituality: the sense of universal fraternity and love for Creation, which inspired his famous Canticle of Creatures. It is a very timely message. As I reminded in my recent encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” the only sustainable development is one that respects Creation and does not damage the environment (cf. No. 48-52), and in the Message for the World Day of Peace of this year I underlined that also the building of a solid peace is linked to respect for creation. Francis reminds us that in creation is displayed the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator. In fact, nature is understood by him as a language in which God speaks with us, in which reality becomes transparent and we can speak of God and with God.

Dear friends, Francis was a great saint and a joyful man. His simplicity, his humility, his faith, his love of Christ, his kindness to every man and woman made him happy in every situation. In fact, between sanctity and joy there subsists a profound and indissoluble relation. A French writer said that there is only one sadness in the world: that of not being saints, that is, of not being close to God. Looking at St. Francis’ witness, we understand that this is the secret of true happiness: to become saints, close to God!

May the Virgin, tenderly loved by Francis, obtain this gift for us. We entrust ourselves to her with the same words of the Poverello of Assisi: “Holy Virgin Mary, there is no one like you born in the world among women, daughter and handmaid of the Most High King and heavenly Father, Mother of our Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, spouse of the Holy Spirit: pray for us … to your most holy favorite Son, Lord and Master” (Francis of Assisi, Writings, 163).

Ref. http://www.ofm.org/ofm/?p=586&lang=en

Pope offers St. Francis as model

1-27-2010 Pope offers St. Francis as model for spiritual renewal
http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=5272

In his series of weekly talks on the history of the Church, Pope Benedict XVI has reached
St. Francis of Assisi, and he devoted his Wednesday public audience of January 27 to that
“true giant of sanctity who continues to enthrall many people of all ages and religious beliefs.” . . .

FRANCIS OF ASSISI, A GIANT OF SANCTITY
VATICAN CITY, 27 JAN 2010 (VIS) – Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis during the general audience, held this morning in the Paul VI Hall, to St. Francis of Assisi (1181/82-1226), a “true ‘giant’ of sanctity who continues to enthral many people of all ages and religious beliefs”.

Francis, the Pope explained, was born into a rich family and passed a carefree youth. At the age of twenty he took part in a military campaign and was taken prisoner. On his return to Assisi he began a process of spiritual conversion that gradually led him to abandon worldly life. In the hermitage of St. Damian, Francis had a vision of Christ, Who spoke to him from the crucifix inviting him to repair His Church.

This call “contains a profound symbolism”, said the Holy Father, because the ruinous condition of the hermitage also represented “the dramatic and disquieting situation of the Church at that time, with her superficial faith that neither formed nor transformed life, her clergy little committed to its duties, … and the interior decay of her unity due to the rise of heretical movements. Yet nonetheless, at the middle of that Church in ruins was the Crucifix, which spoke and called for renewal, which called Francis”.

Pope Benedict also remarked upon the coincidence between that event in Francis’ life and the dream of Pope Innocent III in the same year of 1207. The Pope had dreamt that the basilica of St. John Lateran was about to collapse, and a “small and insignificant” friar held it up to prevent its fall. Pope Innocent recognised the friar in Francis, who came to see him in Rome two years later.

“Innocent III”, said Benedict XVI, “was a powerful Pontiff, who possessed profound theological culture as well as great political power, but it was not he who renewed the Church. It was the ‘small and insignificant’ friar, it was Francis, called by God. Yet it is important to recall that Francis did not renew the Church without the Pope or against the Pope, but in communion with him. The two things went together: Peter’s Successor, the bishops and the Church founded on apostolic succession, and the new charism that the Spirit had created at that moment to renew the Church”.

Having renounced his paternal inheritance in 1208, the saint elected to live in poverty and dedicate himself to preaching. A year later, accompanied by his first followers, he travelled to Rome to present his project for a new form of Christian life to Pope Innocent III.

Referring then to the philosophical debate concerning, on the one hand, the Francis of tradition and, on the other, the Francis some scholars define as historical, the Pope explained that the saint “wished to follow the Word of Christ … in all its radical truth”, but at the same time “he was aware that Christ is never ‘mine’ but ‘ours’, that ‘I’ can never possess Him, that ‘I’ can never rebuild against the Church, her will and her teaching”.

It is also true that at first Francis “did not wish to create a new order” with all the due canonical procedures. However, not without disappointment, he came to understand “that everything must have its order and that the law of the Church is necessary to give form to renewal. Thus he entered … with all his heart into communion with the Church, with the Pope and the bishops”.

The Holy Father recalled how St. Clare also joined the school of St. Francis, and he praised the fruits that the Second Order of St. Francis, the Poor Clares, has brought to the Church. He then went on to speak of Francis’ 1219 voyage to Egypt, where he met the Sultan Melek-el-Kamel and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “In an age marked by an ongoing conflict between Christianity and Islam, Francis, armed only with the faith and his personal gentleness, effectively followed the path of dialogue. … His is a model which even today must inspire relations between Christian and Muslims: promote dialogue in truth, in reciprocal respect and mutual understanding”.

The Pope also referred to the possibility that Francis might have visited the Holy Land and pointed out that the saint’s spiritual children have made the Holy Places a privileged place for their mission. “I think with gratitude”, he said, “of the great merits of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land”.

Francis, who died in 1226, “lying on the bare earth” of the Porziuncola, “represents an ‘alter Christus'”, and this “was, in fact, his ideal, … to imitate Christ’s virtues. In particular, he wished to give fundamental value to interior and exterior poverty, also teaching this to his spiritual children. … The witness of Francis, who loved poverty in order to follow Christ with complete devotion and freedom, continues to be, also for us today, an invitation to cultivate interior poverty so as to develop our trust in God, with a sober lifestyle and a detachment from material goods.

“In Francis”, the Pope added, “love for Christ was expressed in a special way in the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist”. He also mentioned the saint’s great admiration for priests “because they have received the gift of consecrating the Eucharist. … Let us never forget”, he said, “that the sanctity of the Eucharist requires us to be pure, to live in a manner coherent with the Mystery we celebrate”.

Another characteristic of the saint’s spirituality was “the sense of universal fraternity and love for nature which inspired him to write the ‘Laudes Creaturarum’. This is a very relevant message because … the only form of sustainable development is that which respects creation and does not harm the environment”, and “even the construction of lasting peace is linked to respect for the environment. Francis reminds us that that the creation reflects the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator”.

The Holy Father concluded by describing Francis as “a great saint and a joyful man. … There exists, in fact, an intimate and indissoluble bond between sanctity and joy. A French author once wrote that only one sadness exists in the world: that of not being saints”.
AG/FRANCIS OF ASSISI/…VIS 100127 (1040)