Like many holy men and women, St. Francis suffered. He suffered at the hands of his own followers, dying outside the Franciscan order. He suffered in the early days following his conversion from ridicule and abuse heaped on him by former friends and the people of Assisi, who thought he had gone crazy. As we all know, he was led by the Lord to the little, dilapidated Church of San Damiano, where, while praying before the crucifix, he was told by the Lord "Rebuild my Church." True to his trusting and childlike nature, which was a gift of his conversion, part of his transformation from a world-wise playboy and would-be merchant, he obeyed literally by rebuilding San Damiano and restoring it with his own hands. More significantly he rebuilt a Church badly in need of reform by his poverty, chastity, obedience and overall evangelical zeal, all motivated by love. Along with his contemporary, St. Dominic, he was instrumental in bringing about a revival in the Church by the breath of God, the Holy Spirit.
St. Francis accepted all the suffering, be it physical, mental, or spiritual, that came his way as a privileged channel through which, in imitation of our Lord and Savior, he was made perfect, even receiving in his own body the wounds of Christ. With genuine humility, Francis felt himself unworthy to bear the wounds of Christ and always sought to hide them, with many close to him not knowing that he had received the stigmata until he died.
Very often we are distracted from the fact that God made us to know him, love him, and serve him in this life and to live and be happy with him forever in the next life. Speaking about the effect that the Russian Revolution had on the Russian Orthodox Church, which, under the Tsars, had enjoyed such privilege, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, head of all the Russian Orthodox in Western Europe for many years, said: "During the Revolution we lost the Christ of the great Cathedrals, the Christ of the splendidly architected liturgies; and we were vulnerable, we discovered the Christ who was rejected just as we were rejected, and we discovered the Christ who had nothing at His moment of crisis, not even friends" (Beginning to Pray 17-18). Too often today, with so many preachers offering a health and wealth gospel, we are prone to believe that if things go wrong we have lost God’s favor because of our sins or lack of faith. St. Francis stands as a sign of contradiction to such distortions of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and world that rejects the salvific meaning of suffering. It is funny that Job’s friends seek to explain his afflictions, including the death of his children, to some sin Job had committed, or seek a reason why Job has lost God’s favor. However being wiser and more spiritual than his well-meaning friends, Job refuses such facile explanations, and so should we.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
St. Francis of Assisi and suffering
Looking back over some old files, I found a homily I preached on the Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi back in 2007. The first reading for the Mass of the Day was Job 9:1-12.14-16: