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Francis, the eccentric who stood at the radical center

October 3, 2017
Francis and the stigmataOn October 4 the Church celebrates the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, perhaps the most beloved Saint of our tradition. Revered as a holy person in tune with God and his creation, Francis of Assisi is a man for all people and all times, especially our own, so much in need of light and love, beauty and peace. For Francis, the standard was always Christ and Christ alone. He was known as “il Poverello” - the Little Poor One; the Troubadour of the Great King; and even more so, what Thomas of Celano wrote of him -“Ditissimus Pauper” - the "Richest of Poor Men" - because he clung to that one rag of luxury - the manners of a court (royal life). In a Court, there are 100 courtiers and one King. In Francis' story, there are 100 Kings and one courtier. He treated the whole mob of people as a mob of Kings. Francesco was the courtier.
Francis is a saint honored by Catholics, Protestants, and non-Christians. Too often his message is lost and we reduce his role to that of a gentle, whimsical hippie who fed birds, smelled flowers and tamed wild wolves. He was and is the model of a radical Christian for all of us. Through his simplicity and humility, he preached the love of God. And yet as faithful as he was to this love, and to the constant need for conversion, he gives us the stark reminder that we remain unfaithful, unloving, unforgiving.
How many times have we thought that the Saints are merely eccentrics that the Church exalts for our imitation… people who were so out of touch with the human scene. It is certainly true of all those men and women who were “eccentric” in its literal sense: they deviated from the centre, from usual practice, the ordinary ways of doing things, established methods. Another way of looking at the saints is that they stood at the “radical centre.” We need the example of these holy women and men who had no moderation but only exuberance! They were people with ordinary affections, who took God seriously and were therefore free to act with exuberance. Not measured or moderate, the Saint’s response to God’s extravagant love is equally immoderate, marked by fidelity and total commitment. If we could but grasp how extravagant is our own vocation and role on earth!
On the feast of Assisi’s favorite son, let us recall with gratitude the words of Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the Umbrian hilltop town on June 17, 2007:
The mission arises from the heart: When one pauses to pray before a crucifix, looking at that pierced side, one cannot but feel within oneself the joy of knowing that one is loved and the desire to love and to make oneself an instrument of mercy and reconciliation. It is what occurred, exactly 800 years ago, to the young Francis of Assisi, in the little church of San Damiano, which was then dilapidated. From the cross, now kept in the Basilica of St. Clare, Francis heard Jesus, who said: "Go, repair my house, as you can see it is in ruins.
St. Francis and St. ClareThat "house" was above all his own life, which had to be "repaired" through an authentic conversion; it was the Church, not the one made of bricks, but of living people, which always needs purification. It was also the whole of humanity, in whom God wills to make his dwelling. The mission is always born from a heart transformed by the love of God, as witnessed by innumerable histories of saints and martyrs, who in different ways have spent their lives at the service of the Gospel.
Therefore, the mission is a source in which there is room for all: for those who commit themselves to realize the kingdom of God in their own homes; for those who live their professional work with a Christian spirit; for those who consecrate themselves totally to the Lord; for those who follow Jesus the Good Shepherd in the ordained ministry to the People of God; for those who go specifically to proclaim Christ to those who do not yet know him.”
Together let us go and repair the Lord’s houses wherever we are.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., C.E.O.,
Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation