On the feast of St. Francis of Assisi I always have a flood of memories from Bishop Luers High School in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The Franciscan friars of the St. John the Baptist province administered the school for several generations of my family. It was so much more than a great academic environment. It was a community of faith. One couldn’t escape inoculation with the charism of St. Francis. We learned about peace and nonviolence when our country was at war- in Vietnam and in the inner cities and in the deep South. We celebrated the first April 22 Earth Day. The followers of St. Francis were on the cutting edge of the sixties and seventies!
But what most impacted me about the Franciscans was their community. The brotherhood of the friars was not just a great witness to the common life, simplicity and shared prayer but also to the possibility of putting your gifts and talents at the service of something much larger than yourself. The Franciscans awakened that possibility and desire in me. I knew that community life was no picnic, even with that joyful spirit of Francis! But they were men who were willing to work at it. And I could look at what they had and say, “I want that!” That desire eventually led me to college in Cincinnati (their provincial headquarters) and to the Sisters of Charity.
When I think of Francis I think of a romantic, impulsive, radical follower of Jesus. (I still enjoy Zefirelli’s “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” at least once a year!) In a conversation with my friend Fr. Bill today we talked about how Francis was able to live with detachment, not just in his personal life but also in regards to the project he started, his dream for how it would or should unfold. He might not have been happy about the direction things were taking, for example the moderation of his desire for radical poverty, but he had the grace to let go. He knew in a very profound way that God was God and he was Francis, beloved of God.
On this day I pray that each of us can have a deeper awareness of that truth in our lives.