Let us return to the footsteps of Our Seraphic Father
It was 800 years ago, that God Most High deigned to look down with mercy on His servant Francis, to call him to a life of Evangelical Simplicity. First, through the miraculous vision at San Damiano, during the early winter of 1206 A.D., and finally on the Feast of St. Matthias, on February 24, 1209, when St. Francis, who was in the habit of attending the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, daily, at the Portiuncula of Our Lady Queen of Angels, down in the plain, below the city of Assisi, Italy, heard with his own ears the Gospel of the sending of the disciples; and remained afterward, to ask the Priest to explain the meaning of these. A Scripture, which upon understanding, the Seraphic Father rejoiced saying: This is what I want, this is what I long for with all my heart!
Oh, what a great day, what a great, hope-filled day that was for all of the sons and daughters of the Poverello. We see through the countless pages of the years, back to that wondrous and awe inspiring day, on which that so humble man, Francesco di Bernadone, desiring with all his soul and body to follow the Lord Jesus took up the evangelical life in such an extraordinary and Apostolic way: by putting the Gospel verse literally into practice. For on that day St. Francis did what Our Lord commanded: he took nothing with him, neither gold nor silver, neither a second cloak nor a walking stick nor a traveling bag, and he set out in a life of complete and entire and perfect dedication to the service of Jesus Christ in His Church, by ministering the word of repentance to sinners and the deeds of charity to the lepers and to the poor.
Oh what hope filled days these are for all of us Franciscans. We see that what made St. Francis great is something not only to which we can all aspire, but which we can all obtain, because it came to St. Francis by the grace of God, which He in his unfathomable mercy and condescension has deigned to share also with us, by our vocation, and to which and in which we can walk and progress, if only we follow our Seraphic Father, St. Francis.
Let us humble ourselves, therefore, and walk once again with our Father. Let us show ourselves his sons, by hearing his words and observing his Rule. Let us imitate him above all in the simplicity of his childlike trust in the Gospel, and in his childlike self-detachment from all worldly interests, all worldly pursuits.
Yes, the great and consoling grace which was St. Francis’ on that most glorious and wonderful of days, is at hand for us all and for the entire Order, if we but only stretch out our hands to receive it, open our hearts to accept it.
And we are not alone, for with our most glorious Patriarch, St. Francis, the whole Company of Franciscan Martyrs and Virgins, Doctors and Bishops, Priests and Brothers and Poor Clares and Sisters and Third Order members who reign now with Christ in everlasting Glory, are arraigned in Heaven immediately above us, and look down upon us with hearts full of mercy and longing, with hands filled with graces for each of us, if we only we receive them.
But if we are to duly celebrate these years of graces, it can only be if we open our hearts with the willingness to accept the very graces we commemorate herein. And we can only open our hearts if we return to St. Francis’ humility; for if God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud, how much more does St. Francis and all the Company of Franciscan Saints, give grace to us when we humble ourselves and put aside our pride.
What makes this time so hope filled, is alas, for us today, the knowledge that the state of the Order, in all its communities, is weighed down by so many troubles, so many sins, so many vices, so many scandals, so many imperfections, such despair, such dissent, such infidelity, such carnality, so many concupiscences, so much carnal prudence, so much worldliness.
Yes, it is a sad day that brings the 800th Anniversary of the Conversion of St. Francis to the Order so incapable of itself of rightly celebrating it: so incapable, because by the turmoils of history and the infidelity of its leaders it has wandered so far from Evangelical Simplicity, so far from the Regula Bullata, so far from St. Francis’ purity and childlikeness.
But it is a day and a year full, for this very same reason, with such hope. Because there is no age in which the Order has found itself, than today, in which it has such need to receive again the grace of its Seraphic Founder’s own personal conversion.
This year, let us do our duty to be renewed in the grace of our Franciscan Vocation. Let us heed the advice of so great a Franciscan Saint, St. Bonaventure, who shows us the way. He writes: ubi est reformatio, ibi est conformatio et informatio [I. Sent., d. 17, p. I, a. unic, q. 1, sed contra 2.]
That is, where a reformation of souls is needed, there must be a return to and reception of the Ideal by which, at the beginning, they received their vocation.
And if there be any doubt about what is the Ideal by which we received our vocation, and in which alone it can live and move and have its being, we have only to look to that consummating Event in the life of our Seraphic Father which marked him forever with the Seal of Christ’s own Passion: the sacred stigmata.
Our Ideal is Christ Crucified. Not that we are in any manner or in any sense comparable to Him, who transcends time and space, being its very Maker, who holds in his Hands the Universe and all Ages, who is adored by the myriads of Angels and the great company of the Saints. No, rather, as sons of St. Francis we are called to follow spiritually in the Footsteps of His most Bloody Passion, which He suffered as Man, by heading His counsels:
— unless you deny yourself, you cannot be my disciple!
— seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness!
— unless you do penance you shall likewise perish!
When the Poverello on the Mount of Alverna was sealed with the sacred stigmata, he was as a mass of molten wax, which received the Signet Ring of the Eternal Kingdom, and hence he bears forever the marks of Christ, and leads now the Chorus of the Saints in an eternal praise of Christ Crucified. The whole purpose of his vocation, then, was to revive in the hearts of men on earth a vivid memory and a lively devotion to Christ Crucified, to all that He did or said or suffered for us; and to respond to this in truth by repentance, by penance, by a reform of life and of morals, and by the up-building of His Kingdom, the Church.
And hence, because St. Francis’ vocation is our vocation, we must too open our hearts to accept the seal of the Kingdom, by our own lively repentance, by our own stringent penances, by an authentic reform of our life and of our morals, and by a generous self offering to the work of up-building the Kingdom of God, the Catholic Church.
And if this is to be, we must in all humility acknowledge the obstacles which stand before us today: that the Constitutions of our community now accommodate evangelical simplicity to modern conveniences and personal selfishness of every kind; that our formation programs permit and foster dissent, heresy, immorality, and every other kind of vice, rather than requiring and imposing most stringently a reformation of morals and ideals upon each of us, a rigorous program of penance for each of us and for the community, and works of charity which are consonant and harmonious with these, knowing that there is no authentic progress in this world, but the very same conversion and penitence to which the Gospel and St. Francis call us.
If Our Seraphic Father would speak to us, individually and as a community, to day, he would without a doubt shout out, with the utmost of his strength: Penance! Penance! Penance! Be an example of penance in your community, in the Church, and to the world! I was called to this, to be a herald of penitence for the world, and this is what I desire, with so much longing, from each of you, my sons and daughters! Penance! Penance! Penance! Return to the Faith; Return to right Morals! Return to the spiritual and corporal traditions of my Order! Follow my footsteps and those of your brother and sisters Saints who have gone before you! Put aside the world and its worldlings, and be sober, have a change of heart and return to me and to my example! Do not be deceived! You have wandered much in a deserted land, filled with hunger for things that can never satisfy you! Repent, and turn entirely about, and return to the land flowing with milk and honey! To the land of faith, penance, mortification, and Gospel living! Do not be deceived, for the love of money is the root of every evil, and late have you satiated yourself in it! Drive it from your midst along with all its lusts! Be once again my sons and my daughters! Make no compromise with the world, the flesh and the devil!
Nota Bene: Henceforth, the series of meditations published on this blog, in English, finishes; you can find more meditations by Br. Alexis Bugnolo at the Official Blog of The Franciscan Archive. An Italian translation of the English posts on the current blog, will be forthcomming, Deo volente.