– Br. Michael, ofm
Lent begins with a series of readings which are motivation after motivation. On Ash Wednesday we are reminded that “we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5.20). The following day we are told to “choose life so that you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30.19). Followed by the charge to “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!” (Isaiah 58.1). Then on the Saturday after Ash Wednesday we read, “The Lord will guide your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden” (Isaiah 58.11). If we are not motivated by these acclamations from scripture, I’m not sure what will ever motivate us.
St. Francis of Assisi was one hundred percent motivated by Christ and the gospel. Story after story, teaching after teaching, encounter after encounter paved the way for Francis to see how his life was to be lived embracing the gospel and living it as a vowed life. Not all of us can be Franciscans but all of us can live the gospel. Christ was rooted in the wisdom of the Hebrew Scriptures and this helped shaped his stories and knowledge, which in turn shaped the gospel. How about us? What is shaping us? Are we being ambassadors for Christ? Are we choosing life? Lifting our voice (for good)? Are we a watered garden?
Lent challenges us with these questions. The same way that St. Francis was challenged to examine his life and choose a new path so he could live and not simply be another parched place. St. Francis continually brought his attention to Christ. In his struggles he threw himself before his Savior. In his joys in danced in delight before his Messiah. In his doubts he wrestled with Christ. In his freedoms he rejoiced with his Brother Jesus.
St. Francis reminds us that our lives are of value. Whether we give everything away like he did or we simply see how close God is in creation, Francis’ prayer “My God and My All” must also be ours. Lent is a time to realign our hearts with “My God and My All” especially if our all is becoming all too consuming of things and situations which are not life-giving, like a well watered garden. As we continue to face the reality of a pandemic world, St. Francis is a companion this Lent. Not only is his simple prayer of “My God and My All” a summary of the motivations we have heard in these first days of Lent, it challenges us to pay attention to our living and whose we are.
We are nearing the one-year mark of this pandemic and that is a tough anniversary to acknowledge. This Lent and St. Francis can provide us with a renewed focus of where are hearts are situated and how we can step forward.
Saint Francis says remember: “Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear no ignorance.” (Admonition 28.1). In others words attune our hearts to God, for God is love and we belong to this love.
Saint Francis says return to your inner light, remain focused on Christ. His prayer before the crucifix at San Damiano prays: “Enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope and perfect charity.” These are the gifts which enlivened the heart of St. Francis, which also must enliven our heart and fan the flame which it holds.
St. Francis says recall God’s love. Brother Thomas of Celano the biographer of St. Francis reflects that Francis thoroughly focused on the Incarnation and Passion of Christ so much that he only wanted these to be his focus. If we turn our attention to Christ present among us, for us and in us we too embrace the way of being an ambassador of Christ, choosing life, raising our voices and being strengthened in the way we preach the gospel. This will draw others into the well-watered garden of life.
As we move into the First Week of Lent 2021, still amid a pandemic, let us ask St. Francis to be our companion. Let us take to heart his words, “Your deeds may be the only sermon some people hear today.” Our world continues to need actions of hope, may we be motivated to be people of hope. The saints, the gospel, the love of Christ compels us (2 Corinthians 4.14) to do so.
Blessings on the Lenten journey.
St. Francis walk with us and pray for us.
Icon: St. Francis of Assisi
by C. Ziprick – Soul Sibling Studios ©