04 October 2009

Another Red Letter Day

Today is the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi. It is a true "Red Letter Day" in the traditional sense if there ever was one and it is bound to be marked with a rubric on just about every saints' calendar in Christendom. In Mexico there are over two hundred "parroquias" (parish churches) dedicated to St. Francis and countless "Tercer Orden" churches, small chapels, and shrines. The "Tercer Orden" or "Third Order" of St. Francis is an organization originally made up of devout lay people. It was formed in 1221 as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. The "Second Order" is the "Poor ladies" or "Poor Clares" a contemplative order founded in 1212 by St Clare of Assisi, under the inspiration and guidance of St Francis. The "First Order" of course, is the "Friars Minor" founded 800 years ago this year in 1209 by St. Francis himself and which came to be called the Franciscan Order.

St Francis was a reformer at a time when the Catholic Church was in chaos and besieged on all sides by false prophets, corrupt clergy, and heretics. He was a man on a mission to bring people closer to God and he wasn't even a priest. He began his journey to sainthood as a a good Samaritan, helping people however he could. He had a mystical vision of Jesus Christ in the Church of San Damiano on the outskirts of Assisi in which an icon called the "Cross of San Damiano" came alive and said to him three times, "Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which you can see is falling into ruins". He looked around him and saw that the church was indeed in disrepair and so he sold his belongings and helped the local priest fix the place up. In fact, he restored four more churches until he began to think that he might be on the wrong track and that what Our Lord meant by "His House" was not the buildings but the Church as an organization.

By this time he had attracted a small following of eleven men. Together with his followers he went to Rome and he managed to get a meeting with Pope Innocent 3rd with the help of his local Bishop, Guido of Assisi, who introduced him to Cardinal Giovani de San Paolo who just happened to be the confessor of Innocent the 3rd. You see, even back in those days it was mighty helpful to have political connections, or as we call them here in Mexico, "palancas" (levers). Pope Innocent the 3rd was pretty skeptical about this simple fellow, Francis, and his rag-tag bunch all dressed in brown woolen robes and sandals, but he finally gave in. He made Francis a deacon so that he would at least be able to preach from the altar. This was the beginning of a great religious order whose history it would be impossible to encompass in the limited space of this blog. St. Francis was canonized a saint only two years after his death in 1226 at age forty-five.

I adopted Saint Francis as my personal saintly role model mainly because of his common sense and his solidarity with both Heaven and Earth. He spent his life trying to do the right thing always and that was whatever the Holy Spirit led him to do. There is a legend that says St. Francis was so caring about all living things that when he was on his deathbed he asked that his donkey be brought to his bedside. Just before he died he thanked his donkey for long years of faithful service and asked forgiveness of the animal for being such a burden for all of those years...and the donkey hung his head and wept. That is exactly how I want to go out...thanking my family and friends for caring for me for all these years and asking forgiveness for being such a pain in the ass.

The Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; To be understood, as to understand; To be loved, as to love; For it is in giving that we receive, It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

NOTE: For more interesting things about Saint Francis you might like read my blog entries entitled "Sputnik & St. Francis" and "Tau, Tav, Ansata, & Ta".

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.