Thursday, October 4, 2007

October 4: Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

From St. Francis of Assisi, Letter to the Faithful (1215)

Since I am the servant of all I am obliged to serve all and to carry out the fragrant words of my Lord, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Word of the Father. I must also bring to your attention the words of the Holy Spirit which are spirit and life. Although all the world’s riches were his, Christ and his blessed mother chose poverty. He subjected his will to the will of his Father saying: Father, your will be done; not as I will but as you will. Now this was the will of his Father that his blessed Son, whom he gave us and who was born for us should offer himself by shedding his blood as a sacrifice and victim on the altar of the cross. This sacrifice was not for himself through whom all things were made, but for our sins thus leaving us an example that we should follow in his footsteps. He wants us all to be saved through him and to receive him with pure heart and sinless body. How happy and blessed are they who love the Lord and do what he says in the Gospel: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul, and your neighbor as yourself. Let us therefore love God and adore him with pure heart and soul since he says that he is especially seeking authentic worshippers who will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Let us sing his praises and pray day and night because we must pray always without losing heart.

We must also fast and abstain from vices and sins and from excess in food and drink, and be Catholics. We must visit churches frequently and show reverence to clerics not only for their own sake, even though they be sinners, but because of the office they hold and because of the ministry of the holy body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which they offer on the altar and which they receive and administer to others. Let all firmly believe that no one can be saved except through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Lord’s holy words which clerics proclaim and administer. Religious, however, who have renounced the world are obliged to do more and greater things while not neglecting these. We must love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. We are to observe the commandments and counsels of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must also deny ourselves and submit our bodies to the yoke of service and of holy obedience just as each one promised the Lord.

We are not to be wise and prudent according to the flesh, but rather simple and humble and pure.

We must never wish to lord it over others but must rather seek to be servants and subject to every human being for God’s sake. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon all who have done this and persevered till the end, and this spirit will make his dwelling place and above in them and they shall be children of their Father in heaven whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I, friar Francis, your least servant, by the love that is God beg and implore all whom this letter may reach to receive these fragrant words of our Lord Jesus Christ with humility and love and to fulfill them in love and observe them to the letter. May the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit bless all who accept them with love and understand the m and persevere to the end in putting them into practice. Amen.

This reading is taken from the Office of Readings for the Liturgy of the Hours for the solemnity of Our Holy Father, Francis of Assisi, Deacon, Founder of the Three Orders. (Ed. Quaracchi, 1941). Artwork: Michael D. O'Brien

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

October 3: The Transitus of Saint Francis of Assisi

From: The Major Life of St. Francis by Brother Bonaventure

“When the hour of his passing was approaching, he had all the brothers staying in the place called to him and, comforting them about his death with words of consolation, he exhorted them to divine love with fatherly affection. He spoke at length about preserving poverty and patience and the faith of the holy Roman Church, placing the holy Gospel ahead of other observances.

"As all the brothers sat around him, he stretched his hand over them, crossing his arms in the form of a cross, for he always loved this sign. And he blessed all the brothers, both present and absent, in the name and power of the Crucified. Then he added: 'Goodbye, all my sons, in the fear of the Lord! Remain in Him always! Because a trial and tribulation is coming in the future, happy are thye who will persevere in those things they have begun. I am hurrying to God, to whose grace I entrust all of you.'

"When he finished this gentle admonition, the man most beloved of God ordered the Book of the Gospels brought to him and asked that the Gospel according to John be read to him from the place that begins: ‘Before the feast of Passover.’ He, as best he could, broke out in this psalm: ‘With my voice I cried to the Lord; With my voice I beseeched the Lord;’ and he finished it to the end. ‘The just,’ he said, ‘will await me until you have rewarded me.’” (Chap. XIV)

On the evening of October 3, 1226, Francis of Assisi died at the age of 44. After spending three days in the humble hut that his brothers had built as an infirmary, Francis had himself placed naked on the bare earth, and he died just as the friars were singing the verse of his "Canticle of the Creatures":

"Be praised, my Lord, for our sister Bodily Death, whom no living man can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are those whom she will find doing your holy will, for to them the second death will do no harm".

Each year, members of the Franciscan family around the world gather to remember the passing of Saint Francis: his transitus, into eternal life. This simple service of songs, readings, and prayers is a very poignant experience for all Franciscans. It is a time for all of us to remember our roots, to reflect upon our call, and to give thanks for the great gift of this extraordinary little poor man of Assisi (“Il Poverello”) , whose dream and struggle nearly 800 years ago to become a “living gospel” continue to inform and inspire people everywhere.