Eight hundred years ago, a man passed through the world who witnessed to the transforming power of the Gospel: Francis of Assisi.
This man lived so close to Christ that his life was permeated by God’s love, and he cried out in the streets: “Love is not loved; love is not loved!”
Today, the whole world celebrates the eight hundredth anniversary of this great saint’s birth.
Why are his message and his person so fresh and alive in today’s world?
– Because his life was the Gospel and the Gospel is always pertinent to today.
– Because as a man who was humble, poor, simple, obedient to the Church, <he was> happy.
– Because he was a man who never criticized the rich, but became poor himself.
– Because his greatest revolution was his example.
– Because he was liberated, generous, free of complexes, and a brother to all.
– Because he never attacked the Church, trying to destroy it, but always compromised with it, feeling himself to be Church, called to give it back its purity and holiness.
– Because he preached love among mankind, not violence, hatred, and division.
– Because he so identified himself with the poor that they were his favorites.
– Because, in his leper brother, he found Christ, sick, cast out, despised by society.
– Because he is the man who sings to sister death, and joyfully receives her, since she will open the doors for the eternal encounter with his Creator.
Francis of Assisi is a challenge to the Church today, inviting it, without saying a word:
– To be poorer.
– To be more committed to Jesus’ chosen ones, the poor.
– To be open, receptive and simple, bearing peace, love and hope to a world oppressed by pain, slavery, injustice, and lack of respect for the dignity of the human being.
There is a great need for more men like Francis of Assisi, who will cry out, as George Mounin did: “If I were a Christian, I would make my motto: ‘Either like Francis of Assisi, or nothing!’” Or like Clemenceau, at the hour of his death: “Indeed, it might be necessary that every Christian have at least one drop of Francis of Assisi‘s blood in his veins.”
Lenin, the great revolutionary, near the end of his life, said: “Perhaps I have been wrong. Maybe what the world really needed, more than a Communist Revolution, was a dozen Francis of Assisis.”
While a Cardinal, Pope Paul VI said, “Francis, teach us to become poor, that is, free and generous in the search for and use of these earthly things that are so weighty and fleeting, so that we may remain brothers and Christians.”
In front of his tomb, Pope John Paul II exclaimed, “Francis of Assisi, help us!”
I finish this reflection with the Prayer of Saint Francis, who before he died would say, “I, Francis, did my part; may Christ teach all of you what you must do.”
A SIMPLE PRAYER
“Lord! make me an instrument of YOUR peace!
Where there is hatred… let me sow love.
Where there is injury… pardon.
Where there is discord… unity.
Where there is doubt… faith.
Where there is error… truth.
Where there is despair… hope.
Where there is sadness… joy.
Where there is darkness… light.
O divine Master!
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.
It is in giving… that we receive.
It is in pardoning… that we are pardoned.
It is in dying… that we are born to eternal life.
(Saint Francis of Assisi)