Saint Francis by Miguel Cabrera by Wikipedia
Much is being made about the new Roman pontiff, Pope Francis, and his choice of papal names. Suddenly St. Francis of Assisi is in vogue. What would St. Francis say to modern day America's overly entertained and under informed people, in an upside-down world between the polar opposites of fundamentalism and relativism? St. Francis' enduring message was his life.
"The kingdom of God is like a pearl of great price," Francis heard in the gospel. He only ever read Jesus' words. What more could be said of significance than what Jesus had already said? To find the pearl, Francis gave up everything.
A war-scarred soldier, he came to recognize that his culture possessed authority, but not necessarily truth. He was considered a rebel, embarrassing his parents who disowned him. But he knew the moment he tried to change himself into someone else's form was a moment of infidelity to his Creator. He knew not to be afraid, that the inspired take risks. He wanted to lift others to the level of his own highness.
The world was shiftless and his soul craved constancy. He found that his life's purpose was discovered by listening to the voice within, easily drowned by noise and inattentiveness. Prayer suddenly added a new dimension to his here and now.
St. Francis realized that unless the inner voice is attended to, emptiness, purposelessness and meaninglessness arise. To him that inner voice was the divine, and becoming attentive to it was synonymous with awareness.
The voice spoke to his being true to himself, faithful to his own feelings, his own insights, who he was, and what he knew himself to be. It called him to transform matter into spirit, a priestly task, though he never became a priest. Following his voice trustingly, he saw unity in all things.
Alliance with the poor and poverty (not penury or destitution) became keystones in St. Francis' life. The men and women of the Order of Little Brothers and Sisters he founded went out to minister to the lepers and outcasts of society, establishing hospices, orphanages, food kitchens, announcing the gospel with their works rather than with words.
St. Francis was the inspiration of those first members. He taught them that the ultimate wealth is a spirit of simplicity. Happiness consists not in having much, but in being content with little. He was noted for his joy, which was extended to other levels of reality, and was never vanquished by the disappointments and vicissitudes he experienced in life.
Accepting pain as planting the banner of truth in the fortress of his soul, Francis suffered illnesses patiently. His Order was taken away from him by Church officials and clericalized. Yet despite these adversities, he believed that whatever happened to him was worth the pearl of great price.
St. Francis is considered the patron saint of the environment, as one of the earliest to perceive that objective knowing is alienated knowing, and alienated knowing is ecologically disastrous knowing.
"Learning is good," he said, "but only when it teaches us what we live for upon this earth, what we need to accomplish here and now, and how we can help our fellow men. If it doesn't do this, then learning is chaff."
St. Francis taught that someone who believes in and loves the Creator with their whole heart will also dignify and love creation, and that divine mystery inhabits the large and the small, the great and the common, the pope and the tramp.
He would tell us that because we have failed to recognize the divine image in ourselves, each other and the world, we have polluted creation and dishonored the Creator's love.
In his Canticle, St. Francis likens God to the sun. The closer you get, the more you hurt, because purification is a burning away process. And he was also mindful of what we all will experience one day. "Always remember that Sister Death is beside you. Never forget for a moment that she's there."
Forever the mystic, he ended the Canticle saying: "Unhappy are they who die not knowing you. Happy are they who live in your grace."