The Wednesday General Audience this week offered a beautiful discourse on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. In comments after the General Audience, Pope Benedict also acknowledged the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He prayed:
May the memory of such events, in particular the tragedy of the Shoah that struck the Jewish people, awaken an ever more convinced respect of the dignity of every person, so that all men will perceive themselves as one great family. Almighty God illumine hearts and minds, so that such tragedies will not be repeated!
It's a prayer that we should all repeat -- that we see ourselves as a family under God, and that we respect each other. Unfortunately, with just a quick glance at the news we see how far we are from realizing that. But we can pray, and we can hope, and we can make efforts to change our own hearts to be more aware of this and to be more closely united to God.
The bulk of the Audience was on a beloved Saint who was so close to God, that he even shared the wounds of His Son! If you didn't have a chance to see our Salt + Light Television presentation of the General Audience with English translation on Thursday January 28th at 3:30pm or 9:30pm ET, I'd like to share some quotes from Pope Benedict's excellent talk.
The Holy Father discussed Francis' experience at the Church of San Damiano, where the Crucified Christ asked him to rebuild the Church -- not just the tiny Church of San Damiano, but the entire Church which was enduring a dark period. Pope Benedict offered this important insight that we must always keep in mind today:
... St. Francis does not renew the Church without or against the Pope, but only in communion with him. The two realities go together: the Successor of Peter, the bishops, the Church founded on the succession of the Apostles and the new charism that the Holy Spirit created at this moment to renew the Church. True renewal grows together.
... [Francis] knew that Christ never is "mine" but always is "ours," that "I" cannot have Christ and "I" cannot reconstruct against the Church, his will and his teaching -- but only in communion with the Church, built on the succession of the Apostles, is obedience to the Word of God also renewed.
The entire section in which the Holy Father discussed the above material is worth a read, especially by people working within the Church -- laity, priests, or religious -- as the Pontiff goes into more detail than these two quotes. The Pope also discussed Francis' love for creation, his reception of the stigmata, his travels to the Holy Land and to Egypt, his dialogue with Muslims, and his deep love for the Eucharist, quoting Francis:
The whole of humanity fears, the whole universe trembles and heaven exults, when on the altar, in the hand of the priest, there is Christ, the Son of the living God. O wonderful favor! O sublime humility, that the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, so humbles himself as to hide himself for our salvation, under the low form of bread. (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, Editrici Francescane, Padua, 2002, 401)
Appropriate to the Year for Priests, the Pontiff also quoted a recommendation from Francis to priests on celebrating Mass:
When you wish to celebrate Mass, certainly in a pure way, carry out with reverence the true sacrifice of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, 399)
The power that has been given to priests to make our Lord present in the Eucharist is a key to Francis' deep respect of clergy. Reflecting on this, Pope Benedict offered some thoughts to the faithful, and reminded priests of the great responsibility they hold:
Francis always showed great deference to priests, and recommended that they always be respected, even in the case when, at the personal level, they are not very worthy. He cherished, as motivation for this profound respect, the fact that they have received the gift of consecrating the Eucharist. Dear brothers in the priesthood, let us never forget this teaching: the holiness of the Eucharist asks us to be pure, to live in a consistent way with the mystery we celebrate.
Read the Zenit
translation of the Holy Father's General Audience below:
ON ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
Dear brothers and sisters,
In a recent catechesis, I already illustrated the providential role that the Order of Friars Minor and the Order of Preachers, founded respectively by St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic Guzmán, had in the renewal of the Church of their time. Today I would like to present to you the figure of Francis, an authentic "giant" of holiness, who continues to fascinate very many people of every age and every religion. ...
Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring