As one of his spiritual children, October the fourth is a special day for me. The whole Church is celebrating the feast of our Seraphic Father Francis of Assisi. Many would remember him for a particular scene that touched their heart. As for me, as a Franciscan Capuchin, St Francis remains the saint, founder and spiritual companion along my consecrated life to God.
It would be beautiful to celebrate St Francis feast, mention the great things God did in and through him and stop there. However, I will refrain from undertaking this dangerous journey. After all, one must take St Francis seriously, for his life speaks volumes to all those who want to listen. The first one in this category is certainly me. Thus, the Poverello makes me ask the million dollar question: What does St Francis say to me today?
First, St Francis tells me to love the Holy Trinity with all my heart, body and soul. How beautiful and theologically profound are his Praises of God Most High.
Thou art the Holy Lord, the Only God, who works miracles (Ps. 76:15) Thou art strong, Thou art great (cf. Ps 85:10), Thou are the Most High, Thou art King Eternal, Thou Holy Father (cf. Jn 17:11) King of Heaven and earth. (Mt 11:25). Thou art three in one Lord, God of gods (cf Ps 135:2), Thou art Good, all good, Highest Good, Lord God living and true. (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). Thou art Love, Charity; Thou art Wisdom, Thou art humility, Thou art patience (Ps 70:5), Thou art Beauty, Thou art gentleness; Thou art security, Thou art quiet, Thou art joy; Thou art our Hope and Joy, Thou art justice, Thou art temperance, Thou art all our riches unto sufficiency. Thou art Beauty, Thou art gentleness, Thou art Protector (Ps 30:5), Thou art our guard and defender, Thou art fortitude (cf. Ps 42:2), Thou art refreshment. Thou art our Hope, Thou art our Charity, Thou art our Sweetness, Thou art our eternal Life: Great and admirable Lord, God Omnipotent, merciful Savior.
And Francis, the humblest of all men, notices that God’s triune strength, greatness, goodness, wisdom, humility, love, charity, gentleness, security, quietness, hope, joy, justice, temperance, beauty, fortitude, protection, refreshment, sweetness, and eternity is to be found in the Eucharist. Francis tells me to love the Eucharist because in it Jesus is all this. However he comes to us in his great and utmost humility. His first Admonition on the Body of the Lord says it all.
The Lord Jesus says to His disciples: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would know My Father as well; in a little while you will know Him and see Him.” Phillip says to Him: “Lord, show us the Father, and that will suffice for us.” Jesus says to him: “For so long a time I am with you, and you do not know Me? Phillip, he who sees Me, sees even My Father” (John 14:6-9).
The Father dwells in light inaccessible (cf. 1 Timothy 6:16), and God is spirit (John 4:24), and no one has ever seen God (John 1:18). Therefore He can be seen only in spirit, since it is the spirit which vivifies, the flesh brings forth nothing (John 6:64). But neither is the Son, because He is equal to the Father, seen in Him otherwise than the Father, otherwise than the Holy Spirit. Whence all who saw the Lord Jesus according to the Humanity and both did not see and believe according to the spirit the Divinity also, that He Himself is the true Son of God, have been damned; so even now all who see the Sacrament, which is sanctified by the words of the Lord upon the Altar by the hand of the Priest in the form of bread and wine, and does not see and believe according to the spirit the Divinity also, that this is truly the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, have been damned, since the Most High Himself testifies, who said: “This is My Body and My Blood of the new testament (which is poured forth for the many” (Mt. 14:22,24); and “He who eats My Flesh and drinks the Blood of the Lord.” All Others, who do not have according to this same spirit and presume to receive Him, eat and drink judgement upon themselves (cf. 1 Cor. 11:29). Whence: “Sons of men, how long with a heavy heart?” (Ps 4:3) So that you may know the truth and believe in the Son of God (cf. John 9:35).
Behold, every day He humbles Himself (cf. Phil 2:8), just as when from royal thrones (Wis. 18:15) He entered into the womb of the Virgin; every day He comes to us presenting Himself humbly; everyday He descends from the bosom of His Father to the Altar into the hands of the Priest. And just as to the holy Apostles in true flesh, so even now He shows Himself to us in the Sacred Bread. And just as when they gazed at his very own fleah they saw only His flesh, but contemplating with their spiritual eyes believed Him to be God, so even we seeing bread and wine with our bodily eyes, may see and firmly believe them even to be His Most Holy Body and Blood, living and true. And in such a manner the Lord is always His faithful ones, just as He says: “Behold I am with you even to the consummation of the age” (cf. Mt. 28:20).
Twice in this admonition St Francis mentions the priest. He says that the Eucharist comes to us by the hand of the Priest in the form of bread and wine and that Christ descends from the bosom of His Father to the Altar into the hands of the Priest. In these two phrases we see the great vocation we priests have. Ours is a vocation intimately linked to the Eucharist. Upon seeing this Francis says of priests in his Testament:
Afterwards the Lord granted me and grants so much faith in priests, who live according to the form of the Holy Roman Church on account of their state in life [propter ordinem], that if they would stir up a persecution against me, I want (sic) to have recourse to these. And if I would have as much wisdom, as Solomon had, and I would come upon the little poor priests of this age, in the parishes, where they stay, I do not wish to preach beyond their will [to do so]. And they and all other [priests] I want to fear, love, and honor, as my lords. And I do not want to consider sin in them, because I discern in them the Son of God, and they are my lords. And I do that on account of this, because I see nothing corporally in this age of the Most High Son of God Himself, except His Most Holy Body and Most Holy Blood, which they receive and which they alone minister to others.
In his outstanding love for Jesus and his Church, St Francis recognized that he truly is Christ’s if he loves and reveres him in his ministers, the priests. What a great lesson it is for all of us today when respect and support for our priests seems to be seriously and alarmingly dwindling.
Finally, on his feast day, St Francis teaches me to love, respect, trust and let myself be protected by Mary, the Mother of God and Our Mother. His Salutation to the Blessed Virgin Mary has much to enrich us in this respect.
Hail Lady, Holy Queen, Holy Mary Theotokos, who art the Virgin made church and the One elect by the Most Holy Father of Heaven, whom He consecrated with His Most Holy beloved Son and with the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete; Thou in whom was and is all fulness of grace and every good. Hail His Palace; Hail His Tabernacle;Hail His Home. Hail His Vestment; Hail His Handmaid; Hail His Mother. And hail all you holy virtues, which through the grace and illumination of the Holy Spirit are infused into the hearts of the faithful, so that from those unfaithful you make them faithful to God.
In, through and because of Christ, Her Son and Redeemer, Mary is great, powerful and maternal to us. That is why we are to constantly ask for her potent intercession in every need we find ourselves in.
Talking to Francis meant a great deal to grow in my love towards God, the Eucharist, the priest and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Priests.