The Cost of Following: A Franciscan Reflection
Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. It is a fitting day, then, for us to celebrate the germination of Little Flowers Community, our inner city church plant that follows a Franciscan path as a Mennonite community. While officially having begun in January of this year, the group that became Little Flowers started gathering around a common table every Sunday evening about a year ago. So this evening we will celebrate what God has done in and through us, remembering the example of St. Francis who continues to inspire us.
What is a feast day? Celebrating the feast day of a saint is strange for many Christians who have not grown up in traditions that practiced it. For us it is a way to celebrate the stories of Christians who have gone before us- inspiring and challenging, while still flawed and human. I have always been moved by how Jewish holidays help them remember, both good and bad, the history- the story- of God’s journey with their people. It is this that draws us to the practice of celebrating the Feast of St. Francis.
The Smithsonian Institute, while correlating one of the largest databases of writing on the planet, discovered that St. Francis has been written about, cited and referenced more than any other person on record. As we study his life and see the lasting, expanding impact he continues to make on the world, it is not surprising that so many are inspired to follow his example. With the benefit of history as hindsight, it is not surprising that his life has often been written with the often sanitized quality of many hagiographies. However, when Francesco Bernardone responded to the mysterious calling of Christ on his life, he had none of the knowledge of how it would turn out that we are privileged with. He was stepping out of the security of his family, the approval of his culture and even the safety of the status quo of the Church of his day. It was an obedience that led towards the darkness of the Cross with only the hope and promise of the Resurrection.
As we consider the inspirational example of St. Francis, we must be ever mindful of the uncertainty with which he responded to his own calling. In an age of political and religious upheaval, he choose a lifestyle that had gotten others burned as heretics. He cared for the diseased in a time when medical care was virtually unavailable, virtually accepting a painful death sentence onto himself. Some scholars even believe that his stigmata were the wounds of leprosy. Even if this explanation were true, it still reflects his selfless embrace of Christ’s sacrificial love.
Franciscan biographer Donald Spoto once said:
- “In the final analysis, this is what attracted me to Francis of Assisi- that he saw his journey to God as a process, a constant deepening and adjustment of his aspirations, a refinement of his presumptions about what God wanted and a winnowing of his own good intentions. In that regard, his conversion was not the event of a day but the work of a lifetime.” (pg xix, “Reluctant Saint”)
While we do not deny, ignore or reject the benefits we receive as inheritors of his life and example, neither should we fail to be mindful that to follow Francis should never be a step into the comfortable, the novel or even the certain. Rather, we follow in radical obedience, trusting that with each step we will come closer to goal that Francis himself pursued. For we as step in the hallowed foot prints of the saint, we discover those prints are themselves within the larger prints of Christ Himself.
Today is also the day that I celebrate my profession as a third order Franciscan brother in The Company of Jesus. Please pray for me, along with the other sisters and brothers in the order, that we will walk the journey together in such a way as to honour Christ, fulfilling His mission and building His Kingdom.