Before there was debate about climate change and global warming, he cared about the earth by teaching that the world was created good and beautiful by God and the duty of humanity was to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God’s creation and as creatures ourselves.
Before we thought much about traditional geopolitical divisions derived from national citizenship and religion, he acted as a citizen of the world by going to Egypt to speak to the Sultan and broker peace in the conflict between Christians and Muslims.
He enriched our celebration of Christmas by giving us the Christmas crèche or Nativity Scene.
This larger than life figure is none other than Francis of Assisi, one of the most venerated religious figures in history. With the recent election of a new spiritual leader for the 1.2 billion Catholics of the world, who has chosen to name himself after Francis, it is fitting that we remind ourselves of who Francis of Assisi was.
Born into a rich Italian merchant family around 1181, Francis lived the boisterous life characteristic of a wealthy young man.
As a young man, Francis joined a military excursion against Perugia and was taken as a prisoner for a year.
The experience of captivity may have been the catalyst for his spiritual conversion. In 1204, a serious illness led to a spiritual crisis and a vision made him return to Assisi. His conversion was evident by his giving up of worldly pleasures and radical identification with the poor.
After this conversion experience, Francis began preaching on the streets of Assisi and soon attracted a following. People were inspired and attracted to Francis because he took the gospel literally — by actually following all that Jesus said and did. He did this with joy, without limit and without pride.
Francis’ message: to always preach the Gospel through his actions, and when necessary through words, appealed to many others.
By the time of his death in 1226, the growing order of friars he founded had established groups throughout Europe and had sent missionaries to the East and Africa.
In a culture that often places great values on material processions, the life and message of this poor man from Assisi presents a unique challenge to our sensibilities.
One of Francis’ most enduring legacies is the prayer attributed to him. In this prayer, we get a glimpse of a soul dedicated to doing God’s will:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
By the Rev. Bennet Tran, the Pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church and School in Waconia.