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Friars Speak Out on Their Beloved Saint

francis-bTo commemorate the feast of St. Francis on Oct. 4, HNP Today contacted friars, asking them to provide a brief reflection the saint who founded the Order 800 years ago or a perspective about growing up by the same name; three contributors are named Francis.

Francis McHugh, OFM, of St. Anthony Shrine in Boston
(This reflection is adapted from a homily preached on the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, as we began celebrating the 800th anniversary of the approval of the Franciscan Rule.)

As a young man, he dreamt of becoming someone important, perhaps a knight in shining armor. Believing this was his calling he spent a lot of money to outfit himself with the right equipment and to head off to do battle in search of fame and glory. But do you know what happened? He was captured by the enemy and thrown into prison for over a year. By the time he got back home, young Francis Bernadone, who we now know as St. Francis of Assisi, was a sick, confused and exhausted person who was very uncertain about his future. He kept asking himself, “Who am I? Where am I going? What am I to do?”

Can you relate to that scenario? I know I can in my past history. But there is another person who can also relate to the above experience. We know he was a fisherman by trade, a noble profession. But then he was asked to leave this work and follow after a rabbi, a teacher. He heard this teacher explain what life was about. He saw this teacher touch people who were sick, deformed and possessed by spirits.

st-francisIt is the way of the world that we have to fight against throughout our lives. We learn the way of the world as little children because we need others for our health, well-being and protection. As we grow older, we are challenged to step away from ourselves and begin to care for others. Most of us initially tend to react like the son who told his father that he would not go work in the field, but then realized that he was wrong and went and did as his father asked. This is the beginning of sacrificial love, what we call “agape,” the love Jesus showed us throughout his life.

Throughout our lives, we have to take steps to be more and more Christ-like. We do this by being counter-cultural, by embracing sacrificial love.

All of us are born with both talents and limitations that make each of us unique. And yet, Jesus offers all of us the same invitation — to learn the meaning of sacrificial love, to become Christ-like. It took a while, but our holy father, St. Francis, learned it. And what about us? Are you and I interested to learn the meaning of these words: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it”? Once we learn what these words mean, then we will be able to know who we are before God. Like St. Francis did.

Frank Sevola, OFM, of Church of St. Mary in Providence, R.I.
A number of years ago, I worked in our Province’s Vocation Office. At the same time, a good friend of mine worked in his Augustinian province’s vocation office. One day, we were comparing notes, and after a while he said to me: “Frank, your job is much easier than mine.” I reminded him that we essentially had the same job, faced the same challenges and dealt with the same frustrations. “Oh yeah, “ he countered, “When was the last time you saw St. Augustine in a birdbath?”

I often think of that little exchange when I think about how much people love St. Francis. He is in more birdbaths and gardens than most of us would probably like to admit, and I think the reason for that is because he has always been seen as gentle and compassionate. To take that one step further, Francis shows us the gentle and compassionate God that people long for.

We can learn a lot from St. Francis about understanding what it means to know a gentle and compassionate God. If we believe that God is compassionate and that God is with us, then, like Francis, we must stand in awe before all of creation because God is with all of creation. Our world is the place where God lives. It is the place where we can encounter God everyday. For that reason alone our world is a sacred place. Our relationships with one another mirror our respect for all of creation. Francis knew that about God, and it influenced every bit of his life.

Yes, people love St. Francis, and they love having him in their birdbaths and gardens. On the one hand, it might be kind of kitschy. On the other hand, Francis in a birdbath presents a great challenge to Franciscans everywhere — to show the people we meet the gentle and compassionate God they long for.

Francis Pompei, OFM, of St. Patrick Friary in Buffalo, N.Y.
I will be right up front. I was not named for St. Francis. There was a piano player after World War II that my mother liked whose name was Francis “Frankie” Carl. Bingo! I was named for him. Real inspirational, huh? So, there goes all my name connections with St. Francis for writing something significant and deep about him.

However, one of the attractions to Francis and becoming a Franciscan for me was his spirituality and understanding of the Catholic Church and faith. Though loyal and obedient to the institutional Church, he was led by his experience and love for Jesus beyond the limits and structures of the Church to a truly Catholic and universal vision of God, creation and all people, regardless of their religion, faith, social and economic status. My past and present experiences of the Lord and the Holy Spirit, through the poor, creation and people of faith or no religion at all, have led me to this same Catholic universal vision: to see all people, even enemies, as sisters and brothers, and to sense Christ’s love for and in them, even if they are unaware of it, is an incredible experience and gift. It is this motivating power of the Lord’s love that constantly calls me to let go of anything that attempts or wants to separate me from knowing God, others and creation in this way.

By the way, my middle name is Carl (Frankie’s last name).

A. Francis Soucy, OFM, Holy Name Friary, Ringwood, N.J.
All who are familiar with the creation account in the Book of Genesis know that bestowing a name upon a creature signifies a certain protective dominance over that creature.

Without consciously reflecting on this significance of naming, my parents named me Francis after my paternal grandfather, Francois, a French Canadian lumberjack in his early years. They did not intend that I follow his craft, thank God. What they did not know was that the date on which I was born had a powerful connection with the name; I was born on Sept. 17. Rephrasing St. Paul, the power of the stigmata branded me from my birth with an attachment to Francis as a living witness of the power of the sacrificial love of Christ.

Some think that being born on such a significant date magnetized me to join the friars. Not so. Sharing the ignorance of my parents until I entered the St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., I always had a strong devotion to Francis Xavier with the hope of following him in ministry to the Orient. So much for superstition and destiny.

Fortunately, when I entered adolescence I grew in admiration of, and attachment to, Francis of Assisi. I ended up at the right spot and am deeply grateful for my name, my birth date and for discovering my true namesake through whom I have found deep happiness and fulfillment.

Editor’s Note: HNP’s Communications Office is grateful to those who contributed to this story and welcomes reflections from friars about upcoming feast days.