There are as many ways to follow Christ as there are humans beings, even if many seem not to avail themselves of the grace He offers. Some amongst these paths are more radical than others, and by ‘radical’ we mean ‘back to the very root’, as in, how did Christ Himself actually live? The closer to that ideal, the easier it is to attain the end that the Son of God Himself willed for us, eternal life with Him. Better to take the short-cut than the round-about way.
Saint Francis, need it be said, was one of the most radical of saints, a man who, once converted from his worldly ways in mediaeval Italy, could not compromise. It was all or nothing; hence, his utter poverty and obedience, his quite literal re-building of the church of the Portiuncula, stone by stone; his, to our worldly prudent eyes, reckless trust in God’s protective help, strolling into the very tent of the Sultan to convert him; his seeing God in all creatures, not least his fellow man, from the robbers who left him bloodied and beaten, to the leper whom he kissed, so that he might overcome his revulsion, so natural to one of his once-fastidious nature, with one swift blow; his clear perception of the Creator’s wonderful artistry in the Sun, the Moon, the wind, rain, animals and flowers; and his constant cheerfulness, whether feasting or fasting, cold or warm, wandering the earth or with his brethren in some quiet place for a while. Yet his was a joy born from sacrifice, and two years from his own death, at the age of 42, while in prayer and penance on Mount Alvernia, he was graced to bear the wounds of Christ
Many followed the charismatic Francis, eventually hundreds, even thousands, but he had no idea of starting an Order, nor how to do so, inimical to the free-spirit way he himself lived. But an Order, eventually many Orders, for there are now many kinds of Franciscans, did develop around him, even as he lay dying on the dirt floor of his cell in 1226 at the age of 44.
We could learn much form Saint Francis, that the world will be what it is, from political fiascos, ecclesiastical scandals, earthquakes and signs in the sky, but what matters most is the human soul and its relation to God, manifested in how it relates to His creatures.
Even a tinge of the love, spirit and enthusiasm of Francis would carry us a long way to heaven.