Francis… my old hero and my new hero.
Below is a post I made several years ago on the birthday of Saint Francis, and I thought it would be appropriate for my “F” blog, along with a few quotes of the new pope, Francis I, on why he chose the name. Like I said… my old hero and my new hero: FRANCIS.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved, as to love… For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. ~Saint Francis of Assisi
I’ve learned many lessons from Saint Francis over the years since my high school days. I can’t say those were the best days of my life, but I can honestly admit to a little wistfulness as I remember finally being allowed to wear jeans to school, pairing those jeans with a flannel shirt, and listening to John Denver sing the words of Michael Murphy as he told the simple story of “The Boy from the Country”. Growing up at the tail-end of the Civil Rights Movement, I now have many heroes and sheroes from that era, but at that time I didn’t appreciate them as I do now. Since then, I’ve learned to embrace Gandhi and his teachings; the real-life lessons taught by the fictional characters of “To Kill a Mockingird” have helped me form my own moral character; and although I have never met her, I count Maya Angelou as the mentor of my soul because of what her writings have said to me through the countless reading and re-reading of them. But it was Saint Francis that first introduced me to personal passion and individual responsibility to become that person one was meant to be. In a way, Saint Francis was my first crush: He garnered and encouraged my own passion in both what he had said and in the way he lived his life. I had never known anyone like him, real or fictional, dead or alive… and I marveled at how simply he lived his life and how happy he was in doing so.
My younger brother used to kid me about “Francis, the Sissy”, and I took offense at his poking fun at him. I now understand that if waging peace and loving people is seen as weak, then so be it: I’m sure Saint Francis had a redneck badge of honor gained from not only grit, but grace as well. He certainly was no coward: One has to be strong in conviction and faith to turn his back on his family and turn towards God’s promises as Francis Bernadone did. His complete acceptance of Jesus and his teaching of faith found in Matthew 6:22-34 is a lesson in complete trust with which I continue to struggle: But I have an example that it can be done through the story of the poor little monk of Assisi. His story is important not just because of what he said or even for what he did. It is important because of how he lived.
Both biographers and songwriters stress that Saint Francis chose to not see the forest for the trees: He chose to see the individual and to live in compassion with those that were in poverty, in pain, and in need. Rereading Jim Wallis’ article in “Cloud of Witnesses” as we start another year of JustFaith fellowshipping, I am reminded that Saint Francis listened intently, with his ears, with his eyes, and with his heart. The people he served knew that they were important to the man small in stature yet great in love, simply because he listened to them, looked at them, and knew them for who they were.
We need to take this lesson from Saint Francis and make it our own. Yes, the social injustices and blatant inequities of the world can be overwhelming, if we look at only the big picture. So much poverty, so much pain, and so much ugliness can make our eyes glaze over. But if we remember to look into the eyes of those we wish to serve, and open our ears and our hearts to them as individuals, then we can see each person for who they are and not simply as a part of mass devastation. This, I think, is the lesson of compassion and solidarity Saint Francis taught us.
Back in those high school years long ago, I wrote a little verse that applies somewhat to the birthday wishes for today:
Friendship is like
an old flannel shirt:
I want to be warm and comfortable in living the lessons learned from Saint Francis, but I know to live those lessons I must be ready and willing to roll up my sleeves, wear my old jeans, and walk through the forests of needs… making eye contact with individuals and listening with my heart to know who each of them are. So, Happy Birthday, Saint Francis! And may we all have many more shared with you as we look for our own area of service in Jesus’ name.
On Choosing the Name Francis
The man of the poor. The man of peace. The man who loved and cared for creation — and in this moment we don’t have such a great relationship with the creator. The man who gives us the spirit of peace, the poor man who wanted a poor church. (Vatican press conference, 16 March 2013)
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. (Vatican press conference, 16 March 2013)
[Francis of Assisi] brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, [and] vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He changed history. (Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra, 2010)
Collazo, J. & Rogak, L. (2013). Pope Francis: In His Own Words. New World Library. Novato, CA. (p. 17-18)