Every year we celebrate the feast of all time popular and famous Man St. Francis of Assisi. Many books, articles and blogs are written to mark his feast. There are men and women who make their commitment on this great day to mark their entry into religious life. It is heartening and consoling for all the sons and daughters of St. Francis to know that he is loved and accepted in an age, which is marked by positive development, and a world that is divided on the basis of religion and economic progress. On the other hand the world is experiencing a sharp divide among the nations, the gap between developed and underdeveloped is widening day by day. We are also witnessing a global unrest due to the indiscrimination on many fronts.
The present crisis of refugees flocking to Europe due to civil war in Syria is placing a tremendous stress and tension on the European government. Thought the Europeans would be glad to receive them and look after them but due to the on going economic crisis does not allow them to do so. As I was reflecting to write this blog, the situation of Francis of Assisi came to my mind. It was more or less similar and the society and church was experiencing a radical change. The society was undergoing an economic transformation and the Church was also undergoing a spiritual transformation and change. Francis saw and experienced this transformation and changed with his own eyes. He belonged to a privileged group as far as the economic life was concerned and he had everything at his beck and call.
As mentioned above, the faithful were longing for a spiritual renewal in the church. The desire was becoming stronger as many groups of faithful wished to live the same life of the early Christians. They wanted a change in the Church’s liturgical and spiritual atmosphere. As it is today, people longed for priests and religious who lived their call in a authentic way. And those who lived holy and spiritual life were well sought after. The Laity in general were aware of the sins committed by the responsible people including them. There was a need of someone who could lead them on to the path renewal and conversion.
Young Francis, full of life and promises, his rich father could afford everything for him was chosen and called by the Lord to fulfill the desire of the church and the faithful. He was not only called to preach but to live what he preached. The conversion process was dramatic and effective in his life. The call to rebuild the church was not understood by him properly but the grace of the Almighty revealed everything in due course of time. The spiritual repair work of the Church needed many souls, which he got due to his simple, humble and poor life style. Christ called him to build the Body of Christ by preaching and living an authentic Christian life. The faithful who were waiting and longing to see this example flocked to him in a great numbers. Francis was a person of deep prayer and radical conformity to Christ, which is seen in the stigmata—the wounds of Christ—on his body. Francis believed that the most important way to preach was to witness to the Gospel by the way one lived. He used to tell his followers, “Preach the Gospel with your life; if necessary, use words.”
Francis lived 800 years ago and his world and ours are profoundly different. But we can make many connections. His life shows us the unity of prayer and action. His critique of the economic injustice of his time through preaching poverty challenges us today to denounce injustice and oppression and build structures of equity and peace.