The feast of St. Francis is always a high Holy Day for the many of us who have devotion to this saint of peace, humility and simplicity. For me it is a reminder and an inspiration to live his humble path to Christ and not imply admire him from afar.
Today is especially meaningful as our Holy Father Francis is visiting Assisi. I am where I should be today but I would have loved to be in the city of peace for this historic occasion. I was in Assisi in 1986 when Blessed John Paul II led that beautiful day of ecumenical prayer for peace and again in 2001 when he prayed for peace once again.
Our new Holy Father is inspiring us to live by the Gospel way of Christ without the trappings of pomp or fanfare. This is a time of great hope for our Church and yet it is incumbent upon us as pastors, religious, and laity to seize the moment and witness by word and deed to Jesus Christ AND to the value and beauty of the Eucharist each Sunday. While we are called personally to follow Christ, we are not called as isolated individuals but as member of the community of the Christ. A me-and-God spirituality is fraught with all kinds of dangers because God simply becomes whoever we make Him to be. Belonging to a community that stretches across time and geography keeps us humble and honest.
In his early days of call and conversion Saint Francis needed to mature in his vocation. He first thought he was to rebuild the damaged churches of San Damiano and the Portiuncola but he then began to appreciate his role as renewing the Church of his time. Pope Francis is leading us in a similar renewal today.
Second, when others expressed a desire to join him (Peter of Catania and Bernard of Quintaville), Francis was disconcerted. Up until then he understood that this was his call and his commission to renew the Church. But a community was born that deepened his witness and his vocation. The same is true today.
Finally, Francis had a deep sense of God’s love for him and he put Christ first in everything he did and in every aspect of his life. His early dream was to become a knight and fight in the crusades. On his way with all the right equipment he has a dream and a mysterious voice says to him: “Francis, where are you going with all of this?” Francis says: “To Puglia.” And the voice says: “Whom is it better to serve, the Master or the servant?” “The Master, of course,” answers Francis. “The why follow the servant instead of the Master?”
Francis then asks a very good question, a question all of us might ask ourselves today: “Lord, what would you have me do?” Francis is told to return to Assisi and there he will be told what to do.
Lord, what would you have me do? On this feast of Saint Francis and in light of the example Pope Francis is giving us, we might allow this question to seep into our hearts and take the time to listen for the voice of God in our spirit. Many good things command our attention today but they often tend to become gods in themselves (read: sports, social advancement) and distract us from the priority of truly following the call of Christ for us to serve one another. True peace can only be found in this life if we are responding to what Christ asks of us. And that changes as life moves along. “Lord, what would you have me do?”
May the Lord give you peace.
Rev. James M. McNamara