This Wednesday, the fourth of October 2023, the feast of Saint Francis, is a day I shall never forget in my Franciscan Capuchin life as a Capuchin brother and a priest.
My dear Provincial sent me to celebrate the Mass at a nearby parish within the same town. We as Capuchins took care of this parish for some fifty-three years but, due to the lack of vocations, we had to leave it in the archdiocese’s care.
On my way back to the friary, by foot, I met three men who were in the company of a beautiful horse. In this town there is not only the hippodrome where horse races take place regularly during the weekdays as well as in the national holidays our country, but there are also quite a few people who have trotting horses. This family I met outside near the Church happened to be one of them.
As I saw them I felt to stop and bless them together with this beautiful horse. As a boy I was raised with trotters. So just imagine when I saw before me this amazing animal. Initially the horse started being agitated. The reason was obvious. He was rightly accustomed to hear the French language spoken to him. Thus, at that moment, the Holy Spirit inspired me to talk to him in French, the few words in French I know.
I told him: Tu es un grand champion mon cher cheval. S’il vous plaît, pouvez-vous obéir à vos maîtres qui vous aiment et prennent soin de vous ? Pour te montrer à quel point tu es précieux pour nous tous, je t’embrasse. Which basically means: “You are a great champion my dear horse. Please can you obey your masters who love you and care for you? To show you how precious you are to all of us I give you a kiss.” And I kissed him.
I will never forget the look of that trotter horse! It was a look of a five-year old infant who, in experiencing real love and concern for him personally, just melted! How powerful is the power of love! How transforming it really is!
And if this horse, who is simply a creature, brother horse, as Francis would really call him, responded so splendidly to it, how much more the Poverello greatly and totally said yes and adhered to God’s love in every single day of his life? How did he melt at the love presented to him by Jesus himself at the church of San Damiano and the leper he met on his way? Francis was literally piloted by Christ’s indescribable love for him, a sinner.
I am fascinated every time I read his powerful Testament which magnificently shows the heroic way he let Christ become one with him. Let us keep in mind that Francis wrote his Testament in October 1226, just a few days before he died for this world. The saint dictated it and affectionately called it: “My Testament”. Francis simply wanted this document to be merely a remembrance, an admonition.
While I was in sin, it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I had mercy upon them. And when I left them that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body; and afterward I lingered a little and left the world. In meeting Jesus’ love for him Francis was changed completely in the Christ who is already transfigured on the Cross.
Francis’ intimate relationship with Jesus was so intense that Christ became everything for the Poverello. In the most sublime way Thomas from Celano gives us this extraordinary depiction of Francis:
The brothers who lived with him know that daily, constantly, talk of Jesus was always on his lips, sweet and pleasant conversations about Him, kind words full of love. Out of the fullness of his heart his mouth spoke. So the spring of radiant love that filled his heart within gushed forth. He was always with Jesus: Jesus in his heart, Jesus in his mouth, Jesus in his ears, Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his hands, he bore Jesus always in his whole body…. With amazing love he bore in his heart and always held onto Christ Jesus and Him crucified.
Since he became one with Christ Francis could make his own the words spoken by Jesus himself, understanding them existentially and let them change him in what he was and did.
I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes, meaning the humble: I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt 11: 25-30).
With that childlike attitude of brother horse who just was amazed as I spoke words of love in the language he understood, the French language. So too today I want to turn to Jesus, my Lord, who spoke to me words of the most loving wisdom on earth not just thirty years ago, when he called me to be a Franciscan Capuchin brother, but also every single day of my life, and say to him with my Father and Brother Francis of Assisi:
All-highest, glorious God, cast your light into the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, firm hope, perfect charity and profound humility, with wisdom and perception, o Lord, so that I may do what is truly your holy will. Amen.
Thank you Lord Jesus that you have spoken to me through my brother horse. Amen!