This Sunday, October 4, is the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. Because it falls on Sunday, the readings for the Sunday supersede those of the Mass for Saint Francis. I am using the prayers for the Feast of Saint Francis and will be speaking about him in my homily. In a special way we will pray for Pope Francis, who chose the name to honor the saint, and remind him of the poor and the needy of our world.
There has been a tendency, perhaps unconscious, to tame and to domesticate Saint Francis. Properly understood, Francis is probably the most radical, and perhaps dangerous, of all of the disciples of Christ throughout history. No saint so completely modeled his life on that of Jesus. He completely rejected the world of materialism and consumerism, of property and possessions, of titles and honors.
Francis is often portrayed at the foot of the Cross of Jesus embracing it and the Crucified Jesus. Jesus honored Francis’ love for the Cross by making him the first saint in the history of the Church to bear the stigmata—the wounds of Jesus in his own body.
We who live in the most materialistic society that the world has ever known need the example of Saint Francis more than any who have come before us. We need to know how to let go of material possessions, to live in the grace of God and to trust in his providential care for us.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “You must become like a little child to enter into the Kingdom of God.” “You must take up your cross and follow me, if you wish to be my disciples.” Unless you renounce all of your possessions, you cannot be my disciples.”
In his encyclical, Laudato Si (Praise be to You), the Holy Father invoked Saint Francis as the patron saint of ecology. His Canticle of Creation is a great acknowledgement of our filial union with all of creation, speaking of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water, Brother Fire and Mother Earth. He recognized that we are part of creation and creation is part of us. We are not separate from the rest of creation, so we must love and honor and protect creation as we would our human brothers and sisters and mothers.
Francis travelled to Egypt during one of the Crusades. He tried to keep the Crusaders from slaughtering and pillaging the Muslim people. And he met with Sultan Malek Al-Kamil to seek peace between the Muslims and the Christians. Francis is therefore known as a great patron saint of peacemakers.
We all know the Prayer of Saint Francis, which prays, “Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” Pope John Paul II invited leaders of all of the world’s religions to join him in Assisi, to pray for peace.
More than any other saint, Francis challenges our values and our attitudes towards wealth, creation and peace. So much more than the bird feeder saint, he is a wild and dangerous threat to anyone who is seeking a comfortable and easy discipleship of Jesus. He reminds us that Jesus only wants us to change one thing—everything.
Pope Francis will travel to Assisi today to celebrate Mass there and to sign a new encyclical entitled Fratelli tutti (All brothers). There has been controversy over whether the title excludes women. The title is a quote from Saint Francis, and the Vatican has said that it absolutely does not exclude women.
— Fr. Mike