Embraced by healing love

Embraced by healing love

In the last week or so, I was privileged to help lead a group students from Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati, on pilgrimage to Assisi. As we visited the places associated with the childhood of St. Francis, I tried to suggest to those young people why Francis of Assisi did what he did.

Of course, St. Francis is a very complex and fascinating personality. We continue to learn new things, as we study writings which have some down from his time. Preachers and spiritual writers have explored many descriptions of Francis — you’re familiar with them, I’m sure: *peacemaker, reformer, lover of animals, poor man, reconciler, lover of solitude…and many more. *

But for me, and what I stressed to the young pilgrims when we were at the tomb of St. Francis this past Monday was a simple truth, one which I received from my own pilgrim guide in Assisi years ago, Fr. Roch Niemier, OFM: St. Francis did what he did because, on the streets of Assisi, and in the caves and woods around the town, God had embraced him with love. The love with which God had embraced the world, by becoming human in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Francis was "smitten" with the tremendous love which God showed the world in becoming human. Francis knew intimately God’s healing, forgiving, and merciful love. And Francis needed that mercy, that healing love. He had been indelibly scarred by violence and death in his life, having killed men in battle (we now believe), and endured a wretched year in a miserable prison.

That fundamental self-understanding, that intimate knowledge of God’s love, is why Francis did what he did. Francis took to heart what Christ says in today’s Gospel — that God has revealed the kingdom to the "little ones," the mere children. And so, throughout his life, Francis identified with the "little ones" in society: • He served lepers, who had once disgusted him. • He embraced the poor, even seeking to live as poorly as he could. • He crossed the battle lines to become friends with the leader of Muslim forces. • And he called those men who came to walk the road with him the "lesser brothers," the "friars minor." The "little ones," the minores, were the least in society. So Francis wanted his followers to identify with them, because he believed that was the way they could best identify with Jesus.

Today, we hear that same message proclaimed by the pope who has taken the name of our Father Francis — go to the margins of society, put the Gospel into concrete action by embracing the least in society. The Church, Pope Francis believes, doesn’t grow and fulfill its mission from the center out, but from the margins, the fringes of society inward.
--Fr. Greg Friedman, OFM
Washington, D.C.