A Homily for the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, through whom all things were made. Amen.
Saint Francis was born to into a wealthy merchant’s family in the Umbrian region of what is today Italy. In his youth, he was known for lavish spending, but after a very public falling out with his father, Francis renounced his family name and his inheritance for a life of poverty.
In 1209, Francis founded the Order of the Friars Minor, a group of wandering preachers known for their devotion to poverty and the poor that continues his ministry across the world today. This group of men and women became fools for Christ, living lives of radical reliance on the alms of stranger and deep trust that God would provide. And yeah, at times their actions seemed incredibly foolish. Not only did Francis give up a fortune, he was also known for his preaching – to people, to birds, to a wolf. That’s why we remember him by blessing animals – Francis taught about the interdependence of all creation.
What is it that animates saints like Francis of Assisi?
We look at his life, at the way he willingly gave up fortunes and luxury to live among the poor, to beg for the bare necessities of life and proclaim the Gospel, and it is, to be honest, shocking. I can’t imagine even a high-class life before easy access to supermarkets and air conditioning, let alone one defined by begging for food in the heat of the Italian countryside. And yet he chose that life; not only that, he lived so joyfully that others took notice, listened to his message, and followed him – and still do to this day!
We see echoes of Francis’ ministry not only among the modern Franciscans but the lives of Christians like Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. And it’s mind-boggling that one man who gave up a fortune eight hundred years ago would continue to influence so many people today. Francis’ legacy continues not only through today’s commemoration but also in the person of Pope Francis, the first Bishop of Rome to ever take this name – and who shares in the Franciscan vision of a “poor Church for the poor” and proper stewardship of our common home.
So again, what drove him? What gave him the courage to live the life he did?
Saint Francis of Assisi is part of a long line of people who keenly understood that the world was created by a loving God – not necessarily by speaking it into existence over seven literal days, but created with great care and power all the same. In the beginning, the world was created and it was all very good. And despite human sinfulness, despite our wrongdoing and over-consumption, a time is coming when creation will be restored to its right order. A green shoot is coming out of a stump, and even the wolf and the lamb will live together. Children will live free from fear. The mountains shall be sanctuaries.
We have seen this new creation erupt forward in this world as Jesus the Christ was killed but rose again. There is new life; there is a green blade rising out of the depths of the earth; there, we see the Lamb that was slain beginning his holy and perfect reign.
And Francis understood this – and better than most of us. It’s this faith that freed him to live and work among the poor, that freed him to do something as foolish as preach to the birds and the wolves. Francis understood that we are called to participate in the coming new creation by caring for this world now. It is his faith in Christ that allowed him to live so radically, the work of the Holy Spirit within him that allowed him to live such a holy life.
Today, as we reflect on Francis’ ministry, let us pray that we may all live with such a radical faith, that we may all be free us to live as fools for Christ, serving the poor and caring for all creation.