Feast of St. Francis of Assisi – October 4
“There needs to be reform in the Church.” That’s been something that many people have been saying, especially the last few months. But for those of us following all the moves and movements in the Church a bit more closely, that’s probably been something people have been calling for, for a lot longer.
In recent weeks, calls for reform have been in reaction to the horrendous stories of the clergy sex scandal in the Church and the cover up of many of the details regarding those stories. But prior to that, you could find people from a lot of different perspectives and backgrounds wanting “reform” over a variety of issues. What’s interesting is that while so many would be saying they want the same thing – reform – their meaning and their approaches would be very different. To one that might mean married priests; to another it would mean going back to Mass in Latin.
People want change. They sense something is wrong, something is off. Whether it’s scandalous hypocrisy, a sense of being “off-mission,” both – or a whole lot more. It’s hard not to recognize there’s serious problems in the Church. In the United States alone, while the single largest denomination in the Country is Roman Catholics. The second largest group would be former Roman Catholics.
Which is why today’s Saint looms so large. To many throughout the world, Francis of Assisi has sadly been relegated as “the environmentalist” and most parishes mark the day simply with a “Blessing of Animals.” That’s because there were instances in his life that Francis was seen preaching to the animals (because he found them to be more receptive audiences then people) and he wrote this poetic prayer called the Canticle of the Sun where he praises God in the mystery of Creation – and he calls things like “Brother Fire” “Sister Water” as well as animals as brothers and sisters of mankind. But that is one, relatively small piece of a much bigger puzzle that is Francis.
What made Francis a Saint was his embracing a life where he feel deeply in Love with Jesus Christ and wanted to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a radical way. His conversion caused him to renounce the wealth and prestige of his family, to end up having to beg for food himself and then fasting and giving that food to the poor… to living in broken down and abandoned Churches. It was in one of those Churches that he heard the voice of Christ speaking from the cross saying to him “Francis, rebuild my church which you see has fallen into ruins.” He took that to mean physically rebuilding the Church building that he was praying at, which he started to do… which eventually attracted other men to assist him.
In time he recognized that the Lord wasn’t asking for these guys to be the Property Brothers of the 13th Century. But rather the Church – which was suffering darkness, scandal to the point of falling apart. There was preoccupation with war, crusades, there was great affluence in the Church and not taking care of the poor…
Francis’ love of Jesus helped re-orient the Church to love Jesus in taking care of the poor; to greater devotion to the life of Christ (he was the one who first created a Nativity set for Christmas) – to a greater sense of awe in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. He was in such awe of Jesus being made real and present in the hands of the priest and was so humble he refused to be ordained a priest (and was eventually forced to be ordained a deacon, since he was already founding a religious order which was something he never intended to do). That authentic, genuine, sincere witness transformed the Church at a pivotal moment. Simply with one man humbly kneeling before the Cross of Jesus.
That image of Francis has always captivated me. His greatness, his sanctity, his “fame” if you will all stems from him emptying himself before the Lord – in Jesus greatest moment of selfless sacrifice for all humanity – on the cross.
Yes the problems, the scandals, the calls for reform in 2018 are very different then the ones the Church faced over 800 years ago. But Francis’ (and countless others who’ve followed since) example tells us the only answer is when we too humble ourselves before the Cross of Jesus Christ; when we listen more closely to His Gospel; when we with awe and reverence receive His body and blood into our souls – when we radically live those realities. That will not only reform the Church, but the whole world.