Wednesday, October 04, 2006

homily on the feast of St. Francis

Based on Job 9:1-12, 14-16
and Luke 9:57-62

Few saints have attracted more affectionate attention than St. Francis. Animal lovers are attracted by his intimacy with creatures such as wolves and bears; and the light-hearted are attracted to his reputation for humor.

But Francis is truly a figure deeper than a lighthearted animal-lover. He was a figure of enormous power and dignity. He appeared on the scene at the right time when the Church needed someone like him. He lived during the 13th century: at a time when society was changing rapidly. Things were in transition in Europe: people were moving away from the feudal countryside (where the Church was strongest and held enormous influence) and into towns and villages.

And so the Church stood in danger of losing touch with the masses who had moved away from the rural parishes and who now lived in towns and villages, oftentimes in slums. This was a scenario the Church had not seen before. And many felt a reform was needed to respond to this change in society.

And so Francis came along. And his answer is noteworthy for its simplicity and humility. His answer is to free oneself from material attachments so as to be free “to follow Christ wherever he goes,” using the phrase from the Gospel today. His answer is to go to where the poor and the sick are, those impoverished people who have moved into the towns from the countryside.

His answer basically was to go deeper into the mystery of Christ. For Francis this meant poverty and service to the poor---and to do so with focused and determined zeal until the honor of physically sharing in the wounds, the sacrifice of Christ, is manifested in one’s body---something which Francis received: the stigmata.

I am sure Francis must have found inspiration from the Gospel passage we heard today. Because here we hear the words of Jesus as he traveled from the north, from Galilee, down to Jerusalem….to his eventual sacrifice. And the words we hear from Jesus in the Gospel reflect his focused and determined zeal to do the Father’s will---something which Francis imitated.

We live at a time not unlike that experienced by Francis, when there are many calls on the Church to reform and renew itself. But I think a good response to these calls isn’t far from the one Francis gave many centuries ago, which is to enter deeper into the mystery of Christ, with a determined and focused zeal. This continues to mean renunciation of those things that hinder our journey of faith to God; and this also means continued service to the poor---not necessarily only those who are materially poor. But rather also those who are spiritually poor, and there are many such people out there: folks who search for and long for true inner peace, joy, hope, and love---and are not finding those things out there, apart from God, apart from the Church. The message of the Gospel, the message of Christ and of Francis, is what we as Church can give as answer.

The Church continues to need women and men with the determined and focused zeal of a St. Francis. And so may his prayer also continue to be our own: Lord, make me a channel of your hope and peace.

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