4 October 2007 Thursday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time
Nehemiah 8, 1-12, Psalm 19, Luke 10, 1-12: St. Francis of Assisi
All spiritual journeys begin with a crisis. In the first reading, the temple of Jerusalem was in ruins and Nehemiah was determined to rebuild it. His request was granted by the king, and thus he embarked on a journey, not just to rebuild the place of worship, but also to renew the faith of the people through the Law. The disciples also embarked on a journey, to preach the good news, and by doing so, laid the foundations of a community.
St. Francis’s crisis began in his home in Assisi, Italy. As the son of a noble, he spent his days with his friends. One day a beggar came to them only to be ignored. Nevertheless, Francis gave the beggar all that he had in his pockets. His father and friends mocked him for this charity. When he was about twenty years old, Francis fought the Perugians, but was taken prisoner for more than a year. He contracted a low fever that made him consider the things of eternity. He had been living a life of comfort, loving the good life of a nobleman. It was during this time that he felt the emptiness of living his life.
When he returned to Assisi, Francis prayed before an ancient crucifix in a wayside chapel of San Damiano, where he heard a voice saying, “Go Francis, and repair my house, which you see is falling into ruin.” Interpreting the voice literally, Francis set out to repair the ruined church, getting textiles from his father’s shop, sold his horse and textiles to secure the money needed for the reconstruction. The church was eventually constructed, and the Francis’ band of friends who joined his cause, rebuilt not just the San Damiano, but many other churches as well. However, deeply than the physical reconstruction, Francis also renewed the Church which in many ways ‘ruined’. His life of poverty brought a new sense of discipleship, a new way to proclaim the Good News of Christ.
In January 2002, Pope Benedict XVI wrote this about St. Francis, when a great number of the world’s religions and many Christian communities flocked to Assisi to talk and pray about peace and justice, and the reconciliation of peoples and religions:
“And it was only after this experience that it became possible for him to hear and understand the voice of the Crucified One who spoke to him in the tiny St. Damian Church, which was in ruins, the very symbol therefore of the church of the time, profoundly rotten and decadent. Only then did he see how great was the contrast between the nudity of the Crucified One, his poverty and humiliation, and the luxury and violence that had once seemed normal to him. And only then did he truly know Christ and understand too, that the Crusades were not the way to defend the rights of Christians in the Holy Land. He saw, rather, that one had to take the message literally in imitation of the Crucified One… If we as Christians embark on the journey of peace following St. Francis’s example, we cannot fear any loss of our identity. For it will be only then that we find it. And if others join with us in seeking peace and justice, neither they nor we ourselves can have any fear that the truth will be crushed… No, if we seriously set out toward peace, then we will be on the right road because we will be on God’s own road to peace (Rom 15, 33). God whose face was made visible to us as Christians through faith in Christ.”
Reflect on these words by our Pope. He tells us that we should embark on a journey, we have to leave our comfort zones, in search of peace.