Solemnity of Our Holy Father Saint Francis 2020 (Part II)
For this grace-filled day, a bit more to meditate upon.
This is the second of a three part series on fraternal charity.
Buona Festa! Happy Festival of Saint Francis! FrP
Francis, the “father of the poor” (IICel 76) could not stomach any of the brothers treating the poor insensitively, roughly, and he especially denounced those who spoke down to them: “Anyone who curses the poor,” he said, “insults Christ whose noble banner the poor carry, since Christ made himself poor for us in this world” (IICel 76). “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40; cf. 45). “The feeling of compassion for the poor…glowed in him” (title of IICel XXVIII; cf. IICel 76). Francis was indeed the “richest poor man” (IICel 76), for he would ask the rich for cloak and furs, and they gladly gave them to him. He would promptly and with exultation and rejoicing of spirit give it to the first poor one he encountered. (cf. IICel 76). What the wealthy might have refused to give directly, Francis, with the reward of the Love of God, gave on their behalf.
Each person’s inherent dignity and inborn potential for holiness should move us much more than any fear of the stain of sin. Too often we cast them out of our presence and thoughts, we do not live like the One who dines with tax collectors and sinners (cf. Mt. 9:10-13; Mk 2:13-17; Lk 5:27-32) and who spoke with the woman at the well (cf. Jn 4:4-42). Saint Clare wrote beautifully of this Christian reality: “It is now clear that the soul of a faithful person, the most worthy of all creatures because of the grace of God, is greater than heaven itself, since the heavens and the rest of creation cannot contain their Creator; only a faithful soul is His dwelling place and throne, and this only through the charity that the wicked lack” (3LAg 21-22). It is desirable to have such a Brother in Christ Who laid down His life for the ones whom the Father gave Him. How humbling to share His Love and care for the sinner, bringing them to the Source of all grace, as Saint Clare says, “to be a co-worker of God Himself and a support for the weak members of His ineffable Body” (3LAg 8).
The way of Saint Clare to a warm, universal love was through imitation of Christ and His dear Mother; this was the taproot of the many miracles she performed on behalf of the poor. Clare had written in her Rule with firm conviction: “Out of love of the most holy and beloved Child wrapped in poor little swaddling clothes and placed in a manger and of His most holy Mother, I admonish, beg, and encourage my sisters always to wear poor garments” (RegCl 2.24; cf. ER 9.4-5). Much earlier, in 1238, Pope Gregory IX wrote to the monastery of Prague, almost in exasperation, confirming their desire to live in poverty, without anything of their own. Three years earlier Saint Clare had written Agnes that the latter should agree “with nothing that would dissuade [her] from this commitment or would place a stumbling block for [her] on the way.” Instead, she encouraged her, “as a poor virgin embrace the poor Christ. Look upon Him Who became contemptible for you, and follow Him, making yourself contemptible in this world for Him. Most noble Queen, gaze, consider, contemplate desiring to imitate Your Spouse” (2LAg 14, 18-20). Pope Gregory acquiesced, “it is evident that you are convinced that it is improper for servants and handmaids to embrace luxury when the only begotten Creator of all things was laid in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes.” (cf. Pia credulitate tenentes in CA:ED 356).
Francis and Clare both taught their followers to praise God in and with all creatures (cf. LegMaj 4.3). The world is well-acquainted with what Celano tells so well in his first biography of Francis: “The holy man overflowed with the spirit of charity, bearing within himself a deep sense of concern not only toward other humans in need but also toward mute, brute animals: reptiles, birds, and all other creatures whether sensate or not” (ICel 77). He had a special love for lambs, since Our Lord is compared to a lamb often in Scripture; and he even had “a warm love” for worms, for it reads of the Savior: “I am a worm and no man.” He could not admit sheep being taken to slaughter, often saving them, nor for worms to be tread upon by passerby (cf. ICel 77; 80). “He used to call all creatures by the name of ‘brother’ and ‘sister’” and, Celano relates that he “could discern the secrets of the heart of creatures like someone who has already passed into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (ICel 81).
Sister Angeluccia, a witness at the process of canonization for Clare, gives us a precious tidbit of information: “when the most holy mother used to send the serving sisters outside the monastery, she reminded them to praise God when they saw beautiful trees, flowers, and bushes; and likewise, always to praise Him for and in all things when they saw all peoples and creatures” (Proc 14.9). The radicality of this statement comes in the assertion that this praise is for all peoples, not just the ones they liked (i.e. those towns who had perhaps warred against the city of their youth). This brings to mind the words of Saint Peter, “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind. Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing (1Pet 3:8-9).
Stay tuned for the next part. Make sure you are following us, or like us, or have subscribed, or whatever the appropriate verb may be. Pace e Bene. : )