Probably when one thinks of poverty and abandoning something for Christ, the first image that strikes his/her mind is that of Francis of Assisi, the poor friar from Assisi who became an icon of poor living for the centuries to come. Man who stripped himself naked in front of public to tell them and to make himself aware and believe that he has stripped the worldly clothes, did so to express his total detachment from the world as well as his surrender to the will of God. Francis was an exception in this regard, as he showed extra ordinary courage in the middle of the crowd and in front of his bishop, to strip his clothes. No one on earth had this courage on those days to do what Francis did. Could this well be called the ‘passion for Christ’ or being ‘possessed by Christ’. Call it either way; Francis lived this attitude to his last breath. One who feels an urge in himself/herself to follow the footsteps of Christ will be possessed by Christ himself. S/he will go out doing everything as if driven by a passion, passion for Christ. There will not be probably anyone in this world who has had passion for Christ and have expressed it in real life as Francis had done in his life. He stripped himself of all worldly things for the sake of Christ.
Gospel values can be principles for life
Every religious congregation in the world has derived its charism and vision from the very words of Jesus, from the gospels. When it came to Francis to prepare the bylaws for his newly founded congregation he went deep into the lines of the gospel and stated the laws by merely quoting the verses from the Bible. He picked up gospel verses that laid path for a follower of Christ as to how s/he should live according to the life style of Christ.
For a person to live his or her life according to the gospel values is not that an easy work. It requires lot of trust in God and absolute surrender to his will. It’s the will of God which is inscribed in letters in the gospels and so living according to them is living the will of God. When submitting this set of bylaws to the then pope, Francis had a complete trust in the Lord who chose him to follow his footsteps and had the readiness to lay himself totally bare before that Lord who chose to him to live for him.
In the world today where the Word of God carries no much importance to the people in their lives, the style of life, the gospel based way of life, proposed by Francis is not only an ideal way of life but also a challenge to be faced in following Christ. Francis considered the Word of God to be the root from which Christian life springs up and the roots that provide water and manure for Christian living. The Word of God had, has and will always have the same role to play in the lives of the believers. It depends on the believer whether to accept it and live by it or not.
Simplicity of life attracts others to God
There have been thousands of saints in the history of the Catholic church, among whom there are many popular and not so popular saints. There are saints who are well known all over the world and imitated by many and at the same time there are saints who are known only in a small little place, a corner of the world, not known by many and not imitated by. There are saints who are appreciated and accorded everywhere in the world and by people of all walks. Among a few of this kind of saints who have followers all over the world and accorded by all people, is the poor and simple friar from Assisi, St. Francis of Assisi. What made Francis so acclaimed a saint in the world is nothing but the simple way of living, loving Christ and serving the mankind. The demands of life today are many. When all these demands are met the person becomes rich and posh. When one denies fulfilling the demands of the time and place, s/he remains simple and poor. St. Francis showed the courage and self control to say no to the demands to his time and situation. Since he exhibited that courage, he could attract thousands of people to the love of Christ. The people who are attracted by the life of Francis are attracted mainly by the aspect of simplicity in his life.
For the poor after the model of Christ
If there has been an exemplary example in the human history to be called after the model of Christ for the love for poor that is Francis of Assisi. If one wishes to become poor after the model of Christ and needs a role model before him or her, let them look up to Francis, the poor friar from Assisi. In spite of being born in a rich merchant family, Francis showed to the world how one can embrace poverty and live for Christ. Francis probably never gave a second thought to the way he was leaving his family, his wealth and following Christ. Living for Christ is giving precedence to the poor in the society. What St. Francis did in the entire span of his life as a friar was this. He lived for the poor and outcastes of his time. He went out to meet the lepers, an act that drew lot of criticism from the people because they were considered as untouchables and were kept far away from the main stream of the society. Francis went into the hideouts where these outcasts were settled and spent time with them and cared for them. It caused him lot but he preferred it to everything else. What challenges me and you in the life of Francis is the simplicity with which he lived and the courage that he had in order to do so.
There is a time and scenario in which a saint lives and practices his or her faith. S/he sees the living situations of the common people and feels the urge from God to go out of oneself and become a medium of God’s love and compassion to the whole of humankind. This has happened time and again in the history and the number of saints who are venerated at the altar are proofs to this fact. A saint makes difference in my life and your life when s/he inspires us to open our eyes to the happenings around us, act or react against it and then make positive differences in the society. St. Francis of Assisi was a torch bearer for all the centuries that have passed behind and is for the ages to come because the spirituality of St. Francis is one that has relevance for all eternity. Let the simple living St. Francis, the poor friar be an inspiration for me and you to change our way of life, seeing the poor around us, giving preferential priority to them in our society and thus dealing justly with all the creatures around us.
Fr Rajesh P