I have always found Francis of Assisi an inspiring and interesting man of history and faith. I wasn’t introduced to him until I was in college studying at an institution that honors his name. I was immediately interested in a man who would leave behind worldly riches and respect, his own dreams and desires, to follow the way of Jesus.
Feast Day of Saint Francis
October 4th is the Feast Day of Saint Francis. For those of us outside of Catholic circles, his feast day is not his birthday, but his death day, or the day of his transitus into heaven. I have enjoyed many worship services remembering Francis’ transition day from earthly life to heavenly life. I remember my close family friend Sr. Geraldine, who died earlier this year, who would get emotional every time she would describe the Transitus Service each year on the evening of October 3rd with the other sisters. They would place a brown robe in front of the altar with candles around it to remember their father in the faith.
This year in particular I remember Sr. Geraldine Hartke of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, who was a mentor, prayer partner, and fellow pilgrim on this journey. I also remember Sr. Norma Rockledge, of the Franciscan Sisters of Oldenburg, who entered glory in 2020. Sr. Norma was a spiritual guide and pilgrim on the journey as well.
Murray Bodo, a Franciscan priest and spiritual author wrote, “Francis dares to live the Gospel the way I would like to live it, and he loves Jesus the way anyone would like to be loved. It is easier to rationalize and dismiss Jesus than Francis, because Jesus, after all, is divine and so far above us. But Francis is only human like us. What he is, we can become. What is so unique about Francis is that he does what we would like to do, and he does it in such a simple, ingenuous way that we know we could do the same if only we would.”
What He Is, We Can Become
“What he is, we can become.” He is a saint. While that might seem like an absurd claim, he was simply an ordinary radical of his day. He attempted to live simply, peacefully, lovingly, and kindly, in a way that might actually seem radical today. Francis was willing to stand up to others who were telling him to go a different way like his earthly father and even bishop. He was willing to go to those of other faiths in peace as a way to witness to his own faith in Jesus. Living with little, Francis was always willing to give to the poor and serve others.
“What he is, we can become.” I think that’s what Sisters Geraldine and Norma tried to teach me. They dared to live the Gospel in a way that I would like to. They lived with such joy, a deep, beautiful, and gentle joy, that was infectious to all of us who knew them. That joy comes from following Jesus in small, but radical ways just like Francis did.
Francis came from a family with some level of means, he became a soldier, and after being wounded, found himself fully converted to the simple and peaceful way of Jesus. After this experience, Francis went to a small broken-down chapel outside of Assisi, Italy where he prayed before a crucifix:
O most high, glorious God, Enlighten the darkness of my heart, and give me a correct faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, wisdom and perception, that I may do, O Lord, Your most true and holy will. Amen.
Many years after I first met Francis in college, I’m still drawn to his spirit. I share that same desire that he had to seek a correct faith, certain hope, and a perfect charity so that I may do God’s will. It’s a prayer for the church then and now.
As we continue deeper into this season of fall, may we seek to become like the saints before us. For me, this season tends to be a natural one for reflection on my life. We celebrate Francis in early October, we remember our saints in early November, then celebrate Thanksgiving. This year, we will have the chance to learn from Shane Claiborne and his book The Irresistible Revolution and how he seeks to live as an ordinary radical. I hope you’ll join me in this season of reflection, that we might seek to follow Jesus and live like the saints who have gone before us.