October 4: St Francis




            Saint Francis has always been one of the great models for Christian living. He is attractive to both young and old, perhaps because he lived simply, and life for us is so complicated. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live like the larks and the lilies?


            It’s clear that we can't become birds or flowers, and that we can't live like many of the saints. We must become what God wants each of us to be. To this extent, we can't simply draw from St Francis a literal recipe for our life, according to which we would become ever so happy and free.


            But we could let Francis question us: "Do you put too much value on something that is basically unimportant? Have you convinced yourself that you can't be happy without certain things - possessions, money, pleasures?"


            We don't have to take off our clothes and give them back to our father, as Francis did. Immediately after that episode, Francis had to clothe himself again. He had to eat and drink. He developed a close friendship with Clare of Assisi. But he had a radical experience of how little a person needs to be happy. His ultimate relationship was to God and to Jesus Christ, the Crucified One.


            Each of us must try something similar in his or her own way. Often in life, it will happen that we must give up something precious, not by our own choice but from the fact that the precious thing will be taken away, perhaps because we become sick, or are unhappily placed in life, have little success in our profession, are left behind by our peers or associates, and so on. Then it will depend on whether we can finally let go of what has been taken away from us. In this regard, Francis of Assisi is our sublime role model.


            We get excited about the fact that Francis spoke with the birds, but we shouldn’t forget that he experienced the bitterness and disappointments of life. He was sick, he died quite young. He had to experience disappointments even in his own friars; To be sure, his greatest problems were those with his Order. He must have realized that things couldn't go on the way he thought they should in his first burst of spiritual enthusiasm. Later on, "more reasonable" brothers came along and said: "You must allow us to have our own possessions. We need at least a few books. If we are to preach, then we must prepare ourselves properly." Francis came to be at peace with these disappointments, with grievous pain inflicted by his own followers, and also with the inevitability of dying. In his Canticle of the Sun, he not only praised the water, the sun, and the moon, but also "Sister Death." Saint Francis tried, out of his relationship with God, to come to terms with the fact that he could not understand his situation.


            To be sure, Francis was a marvellous romantic, full of love for the earth, but he was more than that. He found his true self in sharing the lives of the poor and in following the crucified Jesus.


            We should be enthusiastic about St Francis of Assisi, but we must see not just the quaint or romantic aspects of his life but the whole person, and take him as our model, after his own model, Jesus Christ.