Celebrating St. Francis of Assisi
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, the venerated man who followed Christ’s example and rejected wealth. We associate this day with St. Francis bird baths that adorn backyard gardens, with the tradition of pets being blessed, and with reciting the Prayer of St. Francis, but what more can we take away from looking at his life and example?
Paul Moses at Commonweal examines some of the lesser known sides of Francis of Assisi, acknowledging that Francis struggled with many aspects of his life and experienced dark periods of spiritual depression. This stands in somewhat of a contrast to our image of this man who still shines today as one of the brightest examples of truly following Christ’s message.
Moses writes, “I don’t dispute that shining portrayal of Francis, but his all-too-human darkness deepens my appreciation for him and makes him all the more a model for the Christian life. From his brokenness, Francis found the insights that led him to oppose warfare, promote an alternative to the greed rampant in the church, and to identify with the poor, lepers, and other outcasts.”
Perhaps today we can examine how elements of Francis’s insights can be used to guide us today. As the patron saint of the environment, would Francis have protested the Keystone XL Pipeline? Francis opposed warfare, having experienced it firsthand himself. What would he say to ten years of war in Afghanistan? He promoted an alternative to greed and walked away from his family’s wealth. Would Francis be out on the streets occupying Wall Street, or asking whether the pope should be living like a king? How would Francis identify with the 46.2 million Americans living in poverty?
It’s obviously impossible to posit how or suggest ways Francis, a European man of the 13th century, would react to modern day problems of American society. But, especially for those who ask St. Francis to pray for them, it doesn’t seem absurd to dwell on Francis’s example and identify ways he can inspire us to react to our world today.
How can we lay down our arms or walk away from wealth? Where can we sow love? Where can we be light in the darkness? What will it take for us to love others? Where are examples that we have received through giving?
As we celebrate his feast day, let us think about what it means to be instruments of peace.