Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi, religious
One of the reasons that St. Francis of Assisi has been so popular through the centuries is that he is seen as a romantic. It is said that Francis separated himself from his money-driven father by taking off his fine clothes and giving them back to his appalled father in the public square. Even more charming is the story of his taming a vicious wolf by appealing to the wolf’s reason: if the wolf would stop ravaging the town, the townspeople would feed it every day. The difficulty with such stories is that they are not always accurate.
A recent biography by a hard-nosed but still admiring historian dismisses a large amount of the legend surrounding Francis. What he finds is a man like the rest of us groping to God through a troubled situation. But Francis, of course, reached his object without the pains of purgatory. Perhaps it was devotion to Christ that gave him the critical edge. Francis loved the Lord because Jesus truly impoverishes himself not just in the incarnation and on the cross but in the Eucharist where he makes himself food for human edification.
We do well to emulate Francis of Assisi. We need not go barefoot or eschew swatting flies. But we should carefully contemplate the mystery that confronts us at Mass. It is Jesus under the guise of bread and wine who calls us to humble ourselves so that we might strengthen others.
Thursday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time
(Nehemiah 8:1-4a.5-6.7b-12; Luke 10:1-12)
A few years ago the United States was enthralled by a freshly told story of Abraham Lincoln. Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln astounded the nation by the portrayal of the sixteenth president’s righteousness and integrity, his political acumen and his patriotism. The movie no doubt invoked many tears as it showed the depth of sacrifice made by the country’s greatest statesman. A very similar dynamic is at work in the first reading today.
The scribe-priest Ezra stands up before the people to read Israel’s Law. He is not reciting a code of rules but the history of the people’s salvation. He reads of Abraham and Jacob, of Moses and Pharaoh. But most of all, Ezra tells of God’s care for Israel. He recounts how God gave Abraham and Sarah a child when the couple had lost hope of descendants. And how He rescued the Israelites from servitude in Egypt and formed them into a community worthy of His name. No wonder that the people want to cry!
Christians can claim the story of the Patriarchs and the Exodus as their own, but we have an even greater love story to contemplate. We speak of Jesus, God’s own son, who took on human form so that we might know God’s definitive will and be strengthened to do it. We too weep at the boldness of God’s compassion on us and can never give Him enough thanks.