Saturday, October 3, 2009

Come, Brother Francis! We need you!

HOMILY FOR THE TRANSITUS OF ST. FRANCIS, October 3, 2009 (Monastery of St. Clare, Andover, MA):

“Before I begin to speak I sigh.” These are the first words of Br. Elias, early companion, dear friend, and successor of St. Francis, in his encyclical letter to the Order announcing the passing of Our Holy Father. “Before I begin to speak, I sigh.” They capture well the solemn nature of this night of Transitus, this night of passing.

Of course, in the brightness of day, in the newness of light, we will rejoice. Our brother, in whose steps we follow, has ascended to the heights of Heaven. Il Poverello, the Mirror of Christ, has been united eternally with Jesus in the glory of His Kingdom.

But, tonight, before we begin to speak, we sigh, because as Elias said on this occasion nearly 800 years ago, “our comforter has been taken away from us, and he who carried us like lambs on his shoulders has set out abroad into a far country. He who was beloved of God and of man has been received into the most resplendent dwellings.”

Of course, even for Elias, his letter was not only one of sorrow, it was one of miracles. His Encyclical Letter contains the first public proclamation of something that had never before been heard of in the history of Christianity – the sacred stigmata. Elias wrote, “I announce to you a great joy and a new miracle. It is a sign which has been unheard of from the very beginning of time except in the Son of God, Christ the Lord. Not long before his death, our brother and our father was seen to resemble the crucified Lord, bearing in his body the five wounds which are the marks of Christ.”

As we find ourselves tonight in the midst of the 800th anniversary of the approval of the Franciscan Rule, of our way of life, perhaps this is the most poignant focus for our meditation – the wounds of Christ made manifest in the Body of St. Francis – because these say something about St. Francis and who he was; and they say something so powerful for all of us – his sons and daughters – as we strive to follow Christ in the footsteps of Francis and Clare some 800 years on. It says, we too are called to be conformed to the image of Christ.

In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited that important mountain top of La Verna – that place of miracles; that place so precious to the Saint himself. Speaking of our Holy Father, the Pope said, “The Gospel was [Francis’] daily bread. He did not confine himself to reading its words, but through the expressions of the revealed text he set out to discover the One who is the Gospel itself…By his life Francis proclaimed and continues to proclaim today the saving word of the Gospel. The reception of the stigmata on La Verna thus represents that visible conformity to the image of Christ which makes Francis the example to which every Christian can aspire in the process of drawing ever nearer to God the Creator and Redeemer. In this regard the words spoken by the Poverello at the end of his life are significant: ‘I have done what is mine to do; may Christ teach you yours.’ Francis bore witness to the boundless love [of Christ] and continues to do so even in our days. Love alone can prevent the failure of humanity and the world.”

My friends, as we gather tonight in this holy place to commemorate the passing of St. Francis, let us remember that our founder, our brother, our father, our saint – is gone from us. He has returned to his Heavenly reward. He has done what was his to do; and now, even 800 years later, he turns to each and every one of us here today. We are the inheritors of his legacy of conformity to Christ; of his example of being Christ in our world. Like him, we are called to be conformed to the image of Christ; like him, we are called to be the Mirror of the Savior reflecting His love to our broken world; like him, we are called to be poor and be lovers of the poor, the suffering, the outcast, the forsaken.

“In truth, in very truth, the presence of Francis, our brother and our father, was a light not only to us who were close to him, but also to those who were more removed from us in calling and in life. He was a light sent forth from the true Light to enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, that he might guide their feet into the way of peace. For this reason…do not mourn beyond all measure; for God, the Father of orphans, will comfort us with his holy consolation. And if you weep…weep for yourselves but not for him; for in the midst of our life we are in death, while he has passed from death to life,” Elias reminds us.

Let me end with the words of the current successor of St. Francis, our General Minister José Rodríguez Carballo, who said, “Francis, come among us! We need you to tell us that true joy does not lie in human wisdom, riches, and rewards, but in being faithful to the plan of the Lord. Francis, come among us! We need you to help us learn that to follow Jesus, there is only one path to take: the path that was trod by him; the path of expropriation and self-denial. Francis, come among us. We need you to teach us how to love those who make us suffer and what to do, so that Love may be expressed more every day and we may become true friends, imitators, and lovers of Christ. Come, Brother Francis! We need you.”

My friends, let us today begin again and may the Lord give you peace.

No comments:

Post a Comment