An Imperfect Saint for an Imperfect World.
The Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Lessons from the primary feria for the Twenty-Sixth Friday of Ordinary Time, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Baruch 1: 15-22.
• Psalm 79: 1-5, 8-9.
• Luke 10: 13-16.
…or, from the proper:
• Galatians 6: 14-18.
• Psalm 16: 1-2, 5, 7-8, 11.
• Matthew 11: 25-30.
…or, any lessons from the common of Holy Men & Women for Religious.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Confessor.
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Galatians 6: 14-18.
• Psalm 36: 30-31.
• Matthew 11: 25-30.
10:20 AM 10/4/2019 — Many years ago I was blessed—or cursed, however you want to regard it—to take a group of college girls on pilgrimage through France and Italy, and one of our stops was Assisi. During our three days there, I stayed in the monastery of the Conventual Franciscans where the Saint’s tomb in located, and offered Holy Mass at the altar of the tomb. Francis, himself, is a very popular saint, as you know, and it can be confusing sometimes to consider all the different religious communities that claim his name. Personally, I recognize only three branches of the Franciscan family: the brown-robed Order of Friars Minor, who believe themselves to be the community founded by Francis; the black-robed Order of Friars Minor Conventual, who actually are the community founded by Francis; and the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, who never claimed to be founded by Francis.*
Francis, himself, was an enigma: born of nobility, he completely misunderstood an interior locution he received while praying in front of a crucifix, thinking our Lord wanted him to renovate a crumbling church. Our Lord did, indeed, tell him to “rebuild my Church,” but He meant the whole Church, spiritually from within—to which effort Francis contributed greatly. He and his disciples lived a very simple life, but their community was beset by internal struggles from the beginning, resulting in Francis being thrown out of the community he had founded. Part of the problem stemmed from his own misguided humility: he allowed himself to be ordained a deacon so that he could preach in church, but never become a priest; and a religious community that has priests in it must have a priest for its superior.
He is, nevertheless, a very popular saint, due primarily to the simplicity of his life and message, which, unfortunately, has been embellished with so many spurious legends that those things most essential about him are often overlooked. Francis of Assisi was not a perfect person—no one, not even the saints, are—and it was his own extremism in pursuing a life of poverty and simplicity that resulted in the disintegration of his original community into rival factions. But perhaps that’s the gift he gives us as an intercessor: someone to whom we can pray when things don’t turn out the way we thought they would.
Today’s Gospel lesson is singular, in that it focuses on those cities visited by our Lord which refused to accept Him. He had spent a great deal of time in the cities along the shores of Lake Gennesareth, and had granted countless miracles and favors to these people; and yet, they would not be converted. A couple of them are named: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida!” (Luke 10: 13). The comparison He makes of these cities with Tyre and Sidon is pretty condemning, considering that they were less responsible for their misfortune because they had received fewer graces.
But, while it may seem by reason of the translation we’re forced to use that our Lord is railing against these cities out of vindictiveness, it is, as is everything with our Lord, a lesson. God continues to speak to man throughout the ages; Christ continues to pass through our cities and towns, showering on us innumerable blessings and graces, especially through the Holy Mass and the other sacraments offered to us. To know how to listen to His Will and fulfill it is of capital importance. As that great Father of the Eastern Church, Saint Gregory Nazianzen, once said, “God is not to blame when the faith fails to spring up among men. The reason is to be found in the unreadiness of those who have heard the divine word” (Oratio catechetica magna, 31).
And what prepares the soul to be ready is mortification. As the Curé d’Ars once said, “If we want to reach God we will have to mortify the soul and all its powers” (Sermon on Ash Wednesday).
Friday is the traditional day for penance and abstinence in the Catholic Church, which is why this lesson is presented to us today; so, let’s rededicate ourselves to the benefits of fasting and abstinence, and invoke the intercession of Saint Francis, that we may remain focused on our true goal: to work out our salvation.
* The three main branches of the Franciscan family can become testy regarding this topic. The brutal, historical reality is that Francis’ original community, the first of the modern “mendicant” orders (literally, “monks without abbeys” or “begging orders”), known as the Order of Friars Minor, saw the need to build a stable monastery in Assisi, and Francis resisted the ownership of property. It was this that resulted in his expulsion from the community he founded. His loyalists thus formed what is known today as the Order of Friars Minor, with his original community adding the word “Conventual” to their name, taken from the word “convent,” because they had built one against Francis’ orders. The Conventuals wore a habit similar to Francis’ original habit (preserved at the monastery in Assisi), which was gray (Francis never wore brown), but it eventually evolved into black, while the new OFMs eventually developed a brown habit.
Following Francis’ death, a few members of both communities, fed up with all the bickering, decided to form a third group which they named the Capuchins, embracing an extreme regard for Holy Poverty and detachment from the world. While initially a completely contemplative community, it eventually branched out into apostolic work. They wore a brown habit, but along the same design as Francis’ original gray habit.
In Assisi today, these three main branches of the Franciscan family have divided the various sites connected with the Saint’s life between them; of these, the Capuchins have all the best sites, including the church of San Damiano, where Francis received his first locution, as well the mountain retreat where he spent his last days and received the Stigmata.