Homily of Br. Michael Anthony Perry, OFM, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, on the Feast of Saint Francis:
“The whole point of (Saint Francis’) point of view was that it looked out freshly upon a fresh world, that might have been made that morning. Save for the great primal things, the Creation and the Story of Eden, the first Christmas and the first Easter, the world had no history.” (G. K. Chesterton)
“A fresh look on a new world.” But how did our dear Brother Francis come to this deep awareness of the eternal and inextinguishable presence of the love and mercy of God in the world, in the hearts of each and every one of us, in his own life, and in the created universe? What was it that took place within his life that allowed him to look into the face of violence and hatred, war and destruction, the exploitative abuse of human beings and of the natural environment without giving up to hopelessness and losing all sense of the presence of goodness in all things that exist?
There are two sources behind and underneath the many different moments of personal conversion in Saint Francis’ life. And let us not forget that Francis did not change his life once and for all when he divested himself of his father’s rich legacy and wrapped himself in the cloth of the poor. Like all human beings, Francis continually was brought to a moment of decision where he had to make a choice for the good or the bad, for God and humanity or for his own egotistical pursuits. These two sources stand side by side and cannot be de-linked one from another.
In the first instance, Saint Francis came face to face with the presence of evil that took many forms – violence and war between competing city states in Italy; avarice and systematic exploitation of the poor and weak; the competition for God and power waged between the Church, the Potesta, the landed aristocracy, and the emerging merchant class. Francis came increasingly in contact with those who suffered most in the society of Assisi. He also witnessed firsthand the consequences of violence, the slow process of dehumanization that occurred in his own heart, and in the hearts of all involved in the prosecution of war. What we are able to reconstruct from the initial stages of Francis’ conversion brings us face to face with the image, the face of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus hanging on the cross in the dilapidated church of San Damiano. It was the crucified Jesus who reached out from the cross and gently touched the pain and confusion within Francis’ life, not judging him, not scolding him. Francis experienced a God who is compassionate, merciful, all merciful, and who loves all without distinction. It was this experience of the compassion of Christ that opened Francis’ heart and mind to the possibility of recovering hope, peace, and joy.
The second aspect of Francis’ conversion process is linked with his direct contact with a humanity that was suffering, alienated, disfigured, and overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness. We witness everywhere in the world today these destructive forces that deepen a sense of a culture of death: the move to end life through euthanasia in different countries in northern Europe; the random and senseless shooting rampages in Paris, London, Las Vegas, and also in Somalia, Yemen, Siria, and elsewhere in the world today; the mistreatment of refugees; the end of civil discourse among politicians and the abandonment of a sense of the common good. In all of these situations we recognize the level to which human beings have lost all sense of the dignity and beauty of life and have closed themselves within a vision of life that is not open to hope, to the presence of Someone standing behind, beneath, in front of and in the heart of human history, God. Francis also stood face to face with many different threats to dignity, hope, and the future of humanity and of God’s presence in our midst. Francis did not run or hide from the disfigured face of humanity. Rather than close himself off and protect himself, Francis chose to jump into the heart of the world, embracing and accompanying humanity, offering love, mercy, compassion, hope to all he encountered, just as Jesus did in his life and mission.
Dear brothers and sisters, our faith tells us that the birth of the new creation is a gift from God transmitted in and through the incarnation, suffering and death, and through the gift of the Resurrection. Our faith also tells us that the only way for this to become a reality in our lives is for us to make the daily choice to act as messengers of love, mercy, and hope. By choosing to embrace the way of compassion and love, we become members of the Body of Christ, co-creators with God in the act of new creation that is taking place in all events of history, an unstoppable act of gratuitous love brought to fulfillment in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus. May God’s Spirit set our hearts on fire and enable us to choose each day to embrace the way of the new creation in Christ Jesus!
Happy Feast of Saint Francis!!
Br. Michael Anthony Perry, OFM
Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi – 4 October 2017
Basilica di S. Francesco, Assisi