Peace and Good!
I’ve added a subtitle to my blog name, recognizing something I think is important. In regard to Francis of Assisi, hard and fast dates for his early life are hard to come by. He was probably born 1181 or 1182. We have a foundation date for the Franciscan Order of 1209, and his death, of course, was the evening of October 3, 1226 (the evening being counted as part of the following day, hence his feast on October 4). Most agree that his process of conversion began sometime in 1206 or 1207. So we are in the midst, most likely, of the 800th anniversary of his conversion, which I think just as significant, if not more so, than the 8th centennary of his birth or of the founding of the Franciscan Order. I am urging all Franciscans I know to mark this anniversary, most appropriately by seeking our own ongoing conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Regarding his own conversion, it was a process, but Francis picked out his encounter with lepers as signally important. “It was bitter for me to see lepers,” he says, “but the Lord led me among them, and what was bitterness was changed into sweetness of body and soul.” In the biographies we have the story as Francis meeting a leper on the road, overcoming his initial repulsion, and helping and embracing the leper. This led Francis to realize that the sweetness of life, the sweetness of God, which he had been seeking and which eluded him in both war and commerce as well as parties and praise, was to be found when he reached out in compassion, just as Jesus had done, especially in the first chapter of Mark.
I think this so much reveals to us some of the meaning of the gospel of today’s mass, the parable of the Good Samaritan. I always notice that Jesus does not, in fact, answer the doctor’s question: “Who is my neighbor?” Rather, he puts it: “Who was neighbor to the man beaten by robbers?” Many are people are frustrated and scandalized in reading the Gospel ideals and then seeing the way things are in the world, even among Christians. But Jesus’ message is not to sit back and wait to be treated like neighbors, but to be neighbors. “Go and do the same.” In opening ourselves in compassion and acting on it we can enter into the mystery of salvation offered by Jesus, who was the one who was so moved by compassion that he came and dwelt among us.
We friars have to remember we are not called to join a community, we are called to create community, to learn how to be brothers. That is the call of all Franciscans, if we would follow Francis’ example. Concentrate on being brothers and sisters, being neighbors, acting with compassion. It’s a struggle, and can be painful, and even lonely at times. That’s what Francis found, in the footprints of Jesus Christ. But as his Master, he also tells us: “It’s worth it.”
So I hope not to merely reflect on Francis’ conversion, but to be open to my own, in the Lord. God bless!
(BTW, I could only find images of Francis already in the habit doing this. Does anyone know of an image of the Francis ‘of the world’ embracing the leper?)