Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Accruing our heritage | Transitus of St. Francis

TRANSITUS OF ST. FRANCIS, October 3, 2016 | Monastery of the Holy Land, Washington, DC:

“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 not long after his amazing election to the Chair of Peter. So, he is not Francis of Assisi, but as we have seen in these three years of his papacy, Pope Francis certainly knows the heart of our great saint, who we gather to commemorate tonight – as Franciscans and as those who love and follow Francis and Clare. We gather here as so many others also gather around the world tonight. We gather once again to celebrate this Transitus, this passing, of St. Francis from the earthly to the heavenly realms.

I mention Pope Francis because as we gather to celebrate our great founder once again, we have to acknowledge a renewed Franciscan spirit in our world precisely because of this new 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. Our General Minister Michael Perry has acknowledged the same. 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. And, 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, and those of us who follow this Franciscan way? 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 at that moment, 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]. 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, again I ask, what’s in a name? I once heard someone say that, “A name accrues its heritage.” When you name something, eventually it takes on the characteristics of that name. Well, my friends – it is not only the Pope who bears that name Francis – you and I bear it too. So, what’s in this 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.

We know that we live in a time through which the Church has endured many scandals; scandals brought on by its own members. These scandals are reminiscent of the similar ones that marked the times of St. Francis. The 13th Century in which he lived was rocked by sin and immorality all around – both inside and outside of the Church. And yet, today, we don’t remember that time for its scandals, we remember it for the great period of holiness that it gave birth to. We remember the luminary saints who were born in response – 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? Well, 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 often attributed to him. He rebuilt the Church 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 – and loving them all into holiness. He rebuilt the Church by holding back nothing of himself for himself and by giving of himself completely in service to Christ and His Church and the world.

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. The list of things he has done gets longer each day. He refused the Papal throne on the first day; he refuses the lavish trappings of the Papacy and dresses 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 so attentively to his first words, 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. 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 kisses 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 the name Francis 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 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 an 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 this 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, I am not Francis of Assisi and neither are you, but we do all bear his name. On this night, let us be renewed in our calling, renewed in the name and spirit of Francis. Let us accrue the heritage of the name we bear. Let us burst forth into the world as the prophets that this name we bear calls us to – making 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.

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

Let us begin again.

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