There are so many model saints out there–that great cloud of witnesses that call us to be more. When I made my pilgrimage this summer, I would often slip my shoes off and place my bare feet on the holy ground, hoping that somehow by osmosis I could let the sacredness slip into my soul. I had gathered prayer requests prior to my departure and most people asked me to pray while in Assisi. Many asked that I pray that they may be more like St. Francis.
Today is his feast day and he has been on my mind. Francis was the son of a rich business man in Assisi. Francis gets him name from France where his father had business dealings. It seems to be somewhat ironic that Francis sheds his clothes and chooses to live simply when his father was a cloth merchant. This saint is a mystery–he can speak to animals and he hears a cross instruct him to go and rebuild a church in shambles. He gives up a life of riches, choosing an austere life instead. He calls all creatures his siblings. He received the stigmata in his final years, suffering much because of it. All this and still he lived with a joy that most of us only long for. He somehow mastered suffering and embraced even Sister Death. He followed closely in the footsteps of Christ, showing a broken church how to choose a different way, keeping his eyes on his Master. Kissing a leper was the beginning of a life of service to the least of these.
His joy drew people to him, despite the humility of his lifestyle. Francis was deeply devoted to the Eucharist and I wonder if this is where the joy became rooted deep within him. He created the first Nativity scene and understood the divine and human paradox that Christ lived. I know that spending time praying in front of the cross that spoke to Francis changed me. I only hope that the joy he felt can embrace me too. The famous prayer of St. Francis echoes in my heart tonight: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…. This was a man intent on humble and joyous service. May I once again kick my shoes off and know the sacredness of his life, a life to which we too are invited.