Sermons

October 4: The Journey to Assisi (27 A)

“Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:6-9.

This month of October, we honor great saints who have inspired generations. Today is the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.

On Wednesday, Sister Claire will lead the “Blessing of Animals” in the garden behind our Rosary Chapel. While it’s an event directed to our First and Second graders, the spirit of Saint Francis lives in us and all God’s creation.

While most of us draw on our faith community’s long history, practices, and traditions, Saint Francis was essentially a person of vast spiritual imagination.

As scholar Raymond Brown once said: “Those who teach balance rarely change the world.” Indeed, Francis’s religious imagination was, at the same time, radical with childlike innocence.

Perhaps this is a hint for the rest of us that we should look to youngsters’ creativity playing with Legos for the first time. This form of invention challenges us to think in every direction.

Born of the 13th-century mind,  Francis’s spiritual legacy continues deep within our religious culture. His care for the environment, his outreach to the Muslim world and Sultan Mulik al-Kamil, his embrace of lepers, and his call for social solidarity. All of these features and so much more inspire us about this servant of God.

Today Pope Francis travels to Assisi for prayer and pilgrimage and formally announces his most recent social encyclical. This pastoral letter is the second of the pope’s formal letters that have a theme drawn directly from the writings of Francis of Assisi. In a private ceremony, at the burial site of Saint Francis, the event marks the first time a pope will sign an encyclical letter in Assisi.

“Fratelli Tutti,” the very title of Pope Francis’s encyclical, comes from a passage from the Admonitions of St. Francis, which reads: “Let us all, brothers, look to the Good Shepherd who suffered in the passion of the Cross to save his sheep.”

In this document, the pope is expected to comment on the COVID-19 health pandemic and how Christians and the world-community must draw closer.

As a preview, in February of 2019, in Abu Dhabi, the pope signed the “Document on Human Fraternity,” along with the Sheik Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb. At the time, the pope emphasized: “the point of departure is the recognition that God is at the origin of the human family. He who is the Creator of all things and all persons want us to live as brothers and sisters, dwelling in the common home of creation which he has given us.”

Take note that the pope is drawing on a pronounced Franciscan spirituality.

By selecting the name Francis, seven years ago, at his election as pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio identified his papacy with Saint Francis of Assisi.

What do Saint Francis and Pope Francis have in common?

Both men might be called “adaptive leaders,” those who want to clarify and discern believers’ genuine needs. These men possess deep spiritual reserves with practical imagination in adapting the gospel for their day.

Let us read again the confidence found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Keep on doing what you learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”

While we live in a time of uncertainty and anxiety, Saint Francis and Pope Francis can spark our religious imagination to remind us that we have a power in Jesus Christ to bring healing and hope.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

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