Today is October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. We often celebrate this day by blessing animals in our churches as we remember the St. Francis who loved the birds and other creatures…and that may be all some of us know of Francis. Yet this one man, born hundreds of years ago, lived a life that inverted all expectation, transformed the church and religious life, and continues today to inspire men and women who long for something more, who yearn for God.
I have been married for almost nineteen years to a follower of Francis. It has been a journey filled with wonder and love. While in medical school, I met my future husband and his fellow Franciscans in Galveston, and all were friends on my journey. A Franciscan priest was my spiritual director while I was a Jesuit volunteer in Washington, DC before medical school had even crossed my mind. There have been lovers of Francis befriending me for years and years now in an almost mystical procession of serendipity.
I first saw the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” as a college student in Austin in the 1970’s. The film captured my heart and my spirit and never really let go. It is a beautifully filmed story of the life of Francis with a soundtrack sung by Donovan. One scene that has stayed with me is an image of Francis washing the limbs of people with leprosy (Hansen’s disease) while Donovan’s melody sings of mercy and joy. That mercy, that joy, has followed me through years of seeking and searching and wandering and ultimately, finding love and faithful companionship with others who love Francis.
St. Francis did love animals. He also loved God, and watched and listened to the Spirit. He knew fear and loneliness and pain. In embracing all of life, he found grace and blessing. In Francis’ time, persons who suffered from leprosy were exiled to remote and isolated geography, and although the story is that Francis was frightened by leprosy…the story is also that Francis kissed a leper and in doing so, found freedom and peace. Nothing was denied, all was welcomed. This life of Francis of Assisi has much to teach us about truth, about the holy, about our own hearts.
So, as we honor the memory of St. Francis today, I wonder how our lives can teach us and lead us more and more toward grace, toward loving kindness, toward justice. The world we live in cries out for mercy, cries out for joy. I give thanks for the life of Francis, and for all the love that has flowed from his friends and continues to grace our world today. May we too embrace all of life, casting nothing away, and know the holiness and grace that only love can bring.