October 4th is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Even though the celebration of Sunday takes precedence today, it would be good for us to take some time to reflect upon this important saint. Francis of Assisi has always been popular, but the fact that our present Pope has taken his name has given him special prominence today.
Moreover, the Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si, is inspired by St. Francis who regarded creation as “brother” and “sister.” This is not just romantic sentimentalism, but the recognition of what the Holy Father calls the inter-dependence of all things. We are all connected – to one another… to the earth … and to earth’s creatures. To harm creation is ultimately to do violence to ourselves. We are called to be stewards of creation, caring for the earth and all living things. This is why Christians must be concerned about things like pollution, waste, and climate change. This makes St. Francis of Assisi an important saint for our time.
St. Francis is also known for living a life of radical simplicity and voluntary poverty. (We witness Pope Francis exhibiting these same values today!) St. Francis stands in stark contrast to the consumerism that marks our society today, especially what Pope Francis calls the “throw away culture.” Everything tends to become “disposable” in such a consumer culture – from diapers to relationships to people themselves. During his visit to the U.S. the Pope made an interesting connection between consumerism and a profound loneliness that afflicts so many today. The material simplicity and selflessness of St. Francis can serve as an antidote for what ails us today.
St. Francis went to the peripheries – caring for lepers and the outcast of society. And he engaged in dialogue – meeting with the Muslim Sultan al Malik, despite the real possibility he would be killed. Again, these are things Pope Francis keeps calling us to do: going to the marginalized and encountering others in a spirit of dialogue. Francis of Assisi continues to be a saint for our time in many striking ways. His life reveals what Pope Francis calls an “integral human ecology” – a life lived in harmony with creation and all humanity. It is expressed beautifully in the following prayer which is often attributed to St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.