February 15, 2015
St. Francis has long been a hero of mine. When I was discerning my call to priesthood as a college seminarian I remember considering becoming a Franciscan because if my fascination with Francis. While studying in Salzburg (1979-80) I read about his life and then visited Assisi, exploring the places of his key moments of transformation. I chose his feast day as my day of ordination and continue to look to him for inspiration. Pope Francis enkindled my devotion to this saint by choosing the name he did. Pope Francis made a visit to Assisi two years ago on his new Feast Day.
St. Francis is mostly known for his dramatic abandonment of worldly security. He made a vow of poverty, lived it austerely, and even name this call “Lady Poverty”. It mostly refers to his absolute trust in God for all things. It is a reminder to me, and all of us, to avoid being seduced by the things and titles that this world offers and, as Pope Francis taught when he was here, to find our true strength in God.
St. Francis is also known as the Patron Saint of animals and the environment, due to his association with animals and his beautiful prose “The Canticle of the Sun”. But more importantly, he was constantly focused on the Holy Cross of Jesus. In fact, I remember a friend of mine, when he went through his Franciscan novitiate, said that the novice master said his main goal with these new Franciscans was to get “Francis out of the birdbath and on to the cross.” In other words, to remove all the sentimental notions of Francis and help them to know the true life of this great saint who sacrificed everything to live in imitation of Christ.
We arrived in Assisi and first visited the place where Francis died called the Portiuncula. He had lived there in his final days. It was one of the chapels he rebuilt. After spending some time there in prayer, we made our way up to the main city nestled on the side of a hill.
We spent time at the Church of St. Clare and visited her relics. This is where her incorrupt body has been laid to rest. St. Clare was an early admirer of St. Francis who founded her own order of contemplative nuns, living the same austere poverty and absolute dependence upon God which St. Francis embodied.
Eventually, we made our way to the Basilica of St. Francis where he is buried deep under the church where there is an altar. We celebrated Mass in a different chapel nearby. Then we departed for Florence, Italy where we would stay the night.
This is my favorite Rendering of St. Francis by the artist Cimabue. It is said to be his closest likeness. I have been in the presence of this fresco many times in the lower church of the St. Francis Basilica in Assisi and, looking into his eyes, I always feel as if Brother Francis is calling me to a closer walk with Jesus.