Thursday, October 3, 2013

Being prophets means making waves | Transitus of St. Francis


“I’m not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and his holiness.”  Now, I know that you know that I’m not Francis of Assisi, but I’m actually quoting another Francis, our Holy Father Pope Francis, who said these words in the second of his extraordinary interviews that he gave to the press in the last few weeks.  This one was made public just this week in the Italian journal La Repubblica.  So, he is not Francis of Assisi, but Pope Francis certainly knows the heart of our great saint, who we gather to commemorate tonight – as Franciscans and Claritians and those who love and follow Francis and Clare around the world also gather tonight.  We gather once again to celebrate this Transitus, this passing, of St. Francis from the earthly to the heavenly realms.

And, I think, this year the celebration, the feast, is unlike previous years, precisely because of this new Francis, Pope Francis, who has shaken up the Church, shaken up the world, and hopefully shaken up all of us who so faithfully follow Francis and Clare.  I had the privilege of being at a meeting this past April with Fr. Michael Perry, who is now our General Minister.  Fr. Michael took a few moments to speak about this extraordinary time in the Church and the Order. He said, “It’s clear that Pope Francis has ushered in a new Franciscan moment in the Church.  We now have a Jesuit Pope with a Franciscan heart calling us back to ourselves. If we don’t embrace this Franciscan moment, then we might as well all go home.”

So, what does this moment call forth from us; especially those of us in brown?  What does it mean for us to have a Pope named Francis anyway?  What’s in a name, after all, as Shakespeare so famously questioned?  Well, you’ve probably heard the story before, but this is a good night to remember why our Pope chose that name. He said, “Some people wanted to know why [I] wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend [and a Franciscan]! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and leaned in and said: ‘Don't forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then, I thought of all the wars [in the world], as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation. He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and is for the poor!”

So, what’s in a name?  I once heard a phrase that said, “A name accrues its heritage.”  A phrase that means when you name something, eventually it takes on the characteristics of that name.  Well, my friends, so especially my brothers and my dear sisters – it is not only the Pope who bears that name Francis – you and I bear it too.  So, what’s in a name? What’s in that name that he bears, that we bear?  I think it is the hope of our Holy Father Pope Francis to embody the same spirit of renewal and reform that embodied the great Saint of the Poor who we remember tonight. 

You know, we live in a time through which the Church has endured many scandals; scandals brought on by the sinful actions of its own members.  But, did you know that these scandals pale in comparison to the scandals in the times of St. Francis?  The 13th Century in which he lived was rocked by sin and immorality all around – both within and without.  And yet, today, we don’t remember that time for its scandal, we remember it for the great period of holiness that it gave birth to.  We remember the luminary saints who were born in response to that sin – St. Francis and St. Clare; St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony; St. Agnes and Bl. John Duns Scotus; and so many, many more.  And so much of it began with Francis.

How?  He heard those words of Christ from the cross, “Rebuild my Church.” And he rebuilt it by following the Gospel – more through his actions than through his words.  “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words,” is a theme attributed to him.  He rebuilt it by loving the poor; by joyfully giving all of himself.  He rebuilt the Church by loving the Church, by loving its members, by loving its clergy, by loving its sacraments.  He rebuilt it by holding back nothing of himself for himself and giving of himself completely in service to Christ and His Church and the world.

What’s in a name?  A name accrues its heritage.  So, the Pope may not be Francis of Assisi, but we clearly have a new spirit of Francis in our midst.  For example, the Pope refused the Papal throne on the first day; he refused the lavish trappings of the Papacy and dressed more simply.  His first action as Pope was not to stand like an emperor before the world, but instead as the whole world looked on to listen to his first words, the Supreme Pontiff and the Vicar of Christ on Earth; this new Pope bowed down before the world and asked us for our prayers; asked us for our blessing. And then he prayed. He rode on the bus and not the limousine, paid his hotel bill and picked up his own bags.  He washed the feet of prisoners, women and non-Christians. He has amazed and surprised us at every turn. He smiles, he laughs, he jokes, he hugs, he kissed and he cries and his homilies are that of a pastor who loves his flock.

And his hope for us?  Well, he knows that we bear that name too.  His hope is that we will do the same.  St. Francis changed the Church and changed the world with one simple proposition – that the Gospel is meant to be lived; that the Gospel can be lived.  “The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this - to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Eight hundred years later, this new Francis, our Holy Father Pope Francis, wants to propose it to us again – and if we follow where he wants to lead us – not in word, but in action – we will again change the Church and change the world – if we first again change our hearts.

In his interview with America magazine, Pope Francis said, “Religious men and women are prophets. In the church, the religious are called to be prophets in particular by demonstrating how Jesus lived on this earth, and to proclaim how the kingdom of God will be in its perfection. A religious must never give up prophecy. Being prophets may sometimes imply making waves. I do not know how to put it.... Prophecy makes noise, uproar, some say ‘a mess.’ But in reality, the charism of religious people is like yeast: prophecy announces the spirit of the Gospel.”

My friends, on this night, let us be renewed in our calling, renewed in the name that we bear – the name of Francis.  Let us burst forth into the world as the prophets that our religious life calls us to – makings some noise as we announce the Good News of love and joy and compassion and healing and faith and hope that God wants all of His people to hear. 

Let us begin again.

May St. Francis bless us and bless our Pope and may the Lord give you peace.

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