The poem that we hear this morning from the Book of Sirach was a eulogy written about one of the Jewish high priests known as Simeon the Just or Simeon the Righteous. He is a contemporary of Judas Maccabeus and is mentioned in the Second Book of Maccabees as well as by the historian Josephus. He held the office high priest for over forty years and is considered one of the great high priests in Israel’s history. Simeon is regarded as responsible for the reconstruction of the Temple after it was destroyed by Antiochus.
Like Simeon, Francis is also regarded as someone who was responsible for the renewal of the Church. We have all heard the story of Francis at prayer before the crucifix hanging in the dilapidated church of San Damiano in the Umbrian Valley. We also know the story of how Pope Innocent saw Francis in a dream holding up the walls of the Lateran Cathedral. Through St. Francis and his followers, the Church of the Middle Ages was transformed by a new form of religious life – the so-called mendicant religious communities.
The second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is likewise chosen for the event in St. Francis’ life which we know of as the conferral of the wounds of Jesus’ crucifixion on the body of St. Francis two years before his death. St. Francis was the first stigmatic in the history of the Church. Only one other male, Padre Pio, a Capuchin Franciscan, has been similarly blessed. (There are four female stigmatics: St. Gemma Galgani, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Miriam Baouardy and St. Rita of Cascia.)
Finally the Gospel text for this solemnity is the familiar text of Jesus’ prayer to the Father after the disciple of St. John the Baptist inquired if he was the one who had been promised and who had been announced by their master. In it Jesus praises God for revelations made to the simple and childlike, characteristics so visible in the life of the Seraphic St. Francis.
You might say that these three readings and our responsorial taken from Psalm 16, provide us with a patchwork quilt that presents us with a picture of the Poor Man of Assisi.
Yet another Francis has been introduced to the world in the person of our current chief pastor, Pope Francis. Today, his encyclical letter “Fratelli tutti” will be published, a letter which will no doubt remind us that St. Francis saw all of the various elements of creation and the universe as brothers and sisters. At this time in our own history and in the history of the Church, we need to be reminded that we are all bound together as one people created by One God who is Lord and Father of us all. There are so many voices that are creating division and disunity.
Francis is known by various names and titles. One that could use some particular emphasis at this time is “Herald of the Great King.” In one of his admonitions to the friars St. Francis described evangelization as using “the most holy words and deeds of the Lord” to lead “people to the love of God in joy and gladness.” Francis’ experience of Christ flowed with great energy into mission. He told the friars that they had been called by the Lord “not for themselves alone but for the sake of others.” God had sent them “into the entire world for this reason that in word and deed you may give witness to his voice.” The recent popes, St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis all call us to be bearers of the Good News, to be Heralds of the Great King for our times just as Francis and the early friars were for theirs.
We are all called to reveal the hidden mysteries of the Gospel not through cleverness and lofty words but through lives that emulate the humility and gentleness of St. Francis. We are to remind all of our brothers and sisters, Fratelli tutti, that in the humble heart of Jesus we will find rest and respite from the divisive culture in which we find ourselves. The example of Francis is more needed than ever.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator