Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
I think it is very appropriate to meditate on the life of St. Francis of Assisi for he is one of the best example of today’s gospel. St. Francis of Assisi was born into a wealthy Italian family. As a teenager, he was a playboy and a spendthrift. He used his generous allowance to pay the bills of his rowdy friends. Then in the year 1202, hostilities broke out between the towns of Assisi and Perugia. Young Francis joined the army of Assisi and went off to fight. He was taken prisoner during the conflict and spent the next year of his life in chains in a dirty dungeon. After his release, it took Francis a full year to regain his health. The prison ordeal and the year of recuperation changed his life forever. He put aside his expensive clothes and put on the garb of a poor workman. On the back of his garb he drew a big white cross. Young Francis then left home and took up the life of a hermit. His new home was a tumbledown church on the outskirts of Assisi. There he spent hours alone in prayer. Francis developed a deep love and concern for the outcasts and rejects of society. This love grew in his heart as a result of two biblical teachings that touched him deeply. Once he was walking along through a field. Suddenly he came upon a leper. Although Francis had a dreadful fear of leprosy, he went up to the unfortunate man and embraced him. This moving incident previewed what was to happen next in the life of Francis. It came about this way: One day Francis was attending Mass. The gospel for the Mass was the same episode we read in today’s gospel. Francis was struck by Jesus’ instruction to journey forth and preach the Gospel, taking nothing for the journey – not even food or money. This instruction gave a whole new direction to Francis’ life. Francis gave up his hermit’s life and journeyed forth, in poverty, to preach the Gospel in towns and villages. The charismatic personality of Francis soon drew other young people to follow him. These first “Franciscans” went about caring for the sick and helping the poor. They slept under the stars and ate whatever was given to them. The group grew in such numbers that the 27-year-old Francis sought and got permission from the pope to form a religious community. The new community was dedicated to living in poverty and serving the poor.
It’s important to note here that Francis did not romanticize the poverty. He and his followers embraced it strictly for spiritual reasons. It made them one with the poor. It also imitated the lifestyle of Jesus. Some people criticize Francis’ approach to helping the poor. These same people criticize Mother Teresa for the same reason. They say that neither attacks the roots of poverty, that both approach poverty superficially. They merely put Band-Aids on huge wounds. This is a terribly misplaced criticism. The call of Francis – like the call of Mother Teresa – is a call to help the poor in their present situation. Like Jesus, Francis and Mother Teresa leave to others the task of mobilizing public opinion and governmental action to attack the root causes of poverty. Here we must respect the different calls to service that God gives. Paul alludes to these calls in his Letter to the Corinthians. He says: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts…There are different ways of serving…different abilities to perform service…The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
This leads us to an important final point. Today, more than ever, we need the kind of witness to serving the poor that we find in the lives of Francis and Mother Teresa. We need to be reminded that just because there is no master plan for attacking poverty, we are not excused from helping the poor. The world needs people who help the poor in their present situation. Jesus was such a person. Francis was such a person. Francis was such a person. Mother Teresa is such a person. And we can be such persons.
The teaching in today’s gospel is clear. All of us are called to preach the Gospel. None of us is excused. And one way we can preach the Gospel is to follow the example of Francis and Mother Teresa. We can preach the Gospel by showing our love and concern for others. In his book Teresa of Calcutta, Robert Serrou compares Mother Teresa to St. Francis. Both came from comfortable backgrounds. Both were suddenly seized with the same devotion to God’s Poor. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Mother Teresa chose the Prayer of St. Francis to be the official daily prayer of her order. Nor is it surprising that Mother Teresa began her acceptance speech of the Nobel Prize in Oslo, Norway, in 1979 by reciting the Prayer of St. Francis.
Let us close with this same prayer. It spells out how we can preach the Gospel by the example of our daily lives:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
“Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive; tt is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
God Bless You,