Saint of the Day
On Oct. 4, Roman Catholics celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Italian deacon who brought renewal to the Church through his decision to follow Jesus’ words as literally as possible.
In a January 2010 general audience, Pope Benedict XVI recalled this “giant of holiness” as a “great saint and a joyful man,” who taught the Church that “the secret of true happiness” is “to become saints, close to God.”
The future Saint Francis was born on an uncertain date in the early 1180s, one of the several children born to the wealthy merchant Pietro Bernardone and his wife Pica. He originally received the name Giovanni (or John), but became known as Francesco (or Francis) by his father’s choice.
Unlike many medieval saints, St. Francis was neither studious nor pious in his youth. His father’s wealth gave him access to a lively social life among the upper classes, where he was known for his flashy clothes and his readiness to burst into song. Later a patron of peacemakers, he aspired to great military feats in his youth and fought in a war with a rival Italian city-state.
A period of imprisonment during that conflict turned his mind toward more serious thoughts, as did a recurring dream that suggested his true “army” was not of this world. He returned to Assisi due to illness in 1205, and there began consider a life of voluntary poverty.
Three major incidents confirmed Francis in this path. In Assisi, he overcame his fear of disease to kiss the hand of a leper. Afterward, he made a pilgrimage to Rome, where he deposited his money at Saint Peter’s tomb and exchanged clothes with a beggar. Soon after he returned home, Francis heard Christ tell him in a vision: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.”
Francis began to use his father’s wealth to restore churches. This led to a public quarrel in which the cloth-merchant’s son removed his clothing and declared that he had no father except God. He regarded himself as the husband of “Lady Poverty,” and resolved to serve Christ as “a herald of the Great King.”
During the year 1208, the “herald” received the inspiration that would give rise to the Franciscan movement. At Mass one morning, he heard the Gospel reading in which Christ instructed the apostles to go forth without money, shoes, or extra clothing. This way of life soon became a papally-approved rule, which would attract huge number of followers within Francis’ own lifetime.
Through his imitation of Christ, Francis also shared in the Lord’s sufferings. He miraculously received Christ’s wounds, the stigmata, in his own flesh during September of 1224. His health collapsed over the next two years, a “living sacrifice” made during two decades of missionary preaching and penance.
St. Francis of Assisi died on Oct. 3, 1226. Pope Gregory IX, his friend and devotee, canonized him in 1228.
What does it mean to be, as today’s Gospel mentions, “a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom”? It demands two things. Just as trees are fed from their roots, we must be rooted in Jesus; and, just as they grow toward the sky, we must have heaven in mind. The tenants in the parable are the Pharisees, who persecuted God’s prophets and killed his son. They had God, in the person of Jesus, living among them, teaching them, eating with them, performing miracles before their eyes. Yet they were so sure that they knew who God was that they did not recognize him. Their faith had become about their status and their laws, not about God. We must remember that our faith is not only a series of truths or practices. It is a relationship with Jesus. We must have open eyes, ears and hearts to recognize his presence in our midst. We must talk to, listen to and spend time with him in prayer, Mass and adoration. We must also remember that God has a much greater gift in mind for us than anything on earth. The tenants were so set on short-term gain that they lost their eternal reward. Let us not forget or fail to recognize God’s gifts.
Saint of the Day
St. Théodore Guérin, SP, was born Anne-Therese Guerin at Etables, Brittany in France on October 2, 1798.
As she was growing up, the French government was virulently anti-clerical, closing down seminaries and churches and arresting priests and religious. Her cousin was a seminarian who lived in hiding in her parents’ devout Catholic home. He instructed her thoroughly in the faith and she displayed an advanced knowledge of theology, even at a young age.
Anne-Thérèse entered the Sisters of Providence at 26 and devoted herself to religious education. Her intellectual capacities were formidable, and she was even recognized by the French Academy for her achievements.
In 1840 Mother Théodore Guérin was sent to Indiana, in the USA to found a convent of the Sisters of Providence in the diocese of Vincennes. There she pioneered Catholic education, opened the first girls’ boarding school in Indiana, and fought against the anti-Catholicism prevalent in the day.
She was well known for her heroic witness to faith, her hope, and her love of God. The fledgling years of the convent of Our Lady of the Woods were difficult, with the ever present danger of it being burned down by anti- Catholics. The persecution also came from within the Church, from her own bishop, who, on not being allowed to tamper with the order’s rule, excommunicated her. The excommunication was eventually lifted by his successor.
James Cardinal Gibbons said of her in 1904, that she was “a woman of uncommon valour, one of those religious athletes whose life and teachings effect a spiritual fecundity that secures vast conquests to Christ and His holy Church.”
She died on May 14, 1856 after a period of sickness, and her feast day is celebrated on October 3.
She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 25, 1998, and canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic church on October 15, 2006, by Pope Benedict XVI.
REFLECTION FOR THE DAY
… rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Luke 10:20
Today is the day to stop the wishful thinking about being able to eradicate disease and hunger in the world and, rather, be grateful for God’s mercy. The disciples, overjoyed to know the power Jesus had given them, raced to him to reveal their successes. Jesus was happy for them but reminded the disciples that they were to rejoice because their names were written in heaven. Ours are as well! There is no need to “wish things had been different.” God knows that we largely do the best that we can with what we have. And God knows that mistakes are inevitable for us. We are to trust God, who alone knows our heart and accepts both the imperfections and the yearnings of our life. What we need to relish is that God has the perfect white-out: mercy. It is freely given, never deserved, corrects what we have done and failed to do, and then welcomes us home. Healing power is given to a few; mercy extends to all.