Following Francis of Assisi today: Who are our lepers?

October 4, 2011

This is the 785th anniversary of the death of St. Francis of Assisi.
He is beloved by so very many people the world over, Christians and
non-Christians, believers and non-believers all admire the man who
sought simply to follow in the footprints of Jesus Christ, living out
his baptismal promise as one committed to living the Holy Gospel. From
popes of his day and the Muslim Sultan Malik al-Kamil, to the last
communist leader of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev (who, although maintains
his atheism, knelt in silence in front of St. Francis’s tomb in Assisi
for more than 30 minutes in 2008 — that’s longer than I’ve prayed
there!) and the philosopher Albert Camus, Francis of Assisi has captured
the attention of billions of people. He was a man of peace, but an
ordinary man who, in striving to live as closely to the Gospel way as
possible, became and extraordinary example of Christian living in our
world.

There is so much that can be said and done to commemorate this Saint
from Assisi, but I think it’s worth reflecting on some of his own story
and narrative of the emergence and meaning of the religious communities
that call him founder. In an important collection of remembrances of the
earliest friars called The Assisi Compilation, we read a selection that brings us back to the central charism and character of this way of life.

From the beginning of his conversion
blessed Francis, with God’s help, like a wise man, established himself
and his house, that is, the religion, upon a firm rock, the greatest
humility and poverty of the Son of God, calling it the religion of
“Lesser Brothers.”

On the greatest humility: thus at the
beginning of the religion, after the brothers grew in number, he wanted
the brothers to stay in hospitals of lepers to serve them. At that time
when nobles and commoners came to the religion, they were told, among
other things, that they had to serve the lepers and stay in their
houses.

On the greatest poverty: as stated in the Rule,
let the brothers remain as strangers and pilgrims in the houses in
which they stay. Let them not seek to have anything under heaven, except
holy poverty, by which, in this world, they are nourished by the Lord
with bodily food and virtue, and, in the next, will attain a heavenly
inheritance.

He established himself on the greatest
poverty and humility, because, although he was a great prelate in the
church of God, he wanted and chose to be lowly not only in the church of
God, but also among his brothers.

I think that these two constitutive elements of the Franciscan life —
humility and poverty — are really important aspects of the Christian
life upon which we all can reflect today. That Francis desired the
brothers all serve the lepers signifies that they were to transcend the
boundaries of social and class distinctions, to risk meeting the
stranger and the unknown, to “get dirty” in the messiness of human
living, and bring peace, understanding and love all the while. The
lepers were the voiceless, the marginalized, the ignored, despised and
forgotten. Who are our lepers today? Who are the ones that the rest of
the Church, society and world wishes to push off outside of our everyday
experience so that we never have to encounter them? They are out there
and we are called to be among them.

The humility that Francis sought to instill in his brother friars as
he struggled to live it himself reflects the very condition of Christian
discipleship that provides the possibility of solidarity and ministry
among all sorts of people. A life centered on humility means that one
does not consider him or herself above, better or distinct from others —
the rich and poor, the powerful and weak alike. Instead, freedom comes
with the letting go of one’s own interest, ambitions and goals, the
desire for power and dominance, in order to approach all people
recognizing who it is they really are: our brothers and sisters.

Following Francis of Assisi today means striving to live among the
lepers of our own time in a spirit of evangelical poverty and humility,
allowing nothing to get in the way of embracing others. Who are our
lepers? How will we, following the example of Francis, be their brothers
and sisters?

Originally posted at Dating God.

Comments

"Who is My mother or My brethren?"

"Then someone said unto Him, "Behold, your mother and Your brethren stand outside, and desire to speak with You."

But He answered and said unto him that told Him, "Who is My mother? and who are my brethren?"

And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, "Behold my mother and My brethren!

For whoever shall do The Will of My Father WHO is in Heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.""

Yet, the brethren of The Messiah are to "love their neighbor as themselves".......

Father Help! and HE does.......