The Fourth of October is the feast-day of St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226). Though he died almost 800 years ago, he is one of the most beloved among the saints by both Christians and those outside the Faith. Yet, he is often misunderstood or ‘misappropriated’ by those who wish to ascribe to this holy man attributes or endorsements of their agendas. Fr. George Rutler aptly attests that Francis is “…one of the best known and least known of all saints. Least known that is, because Francis of Assisi was not a garden gnome, or a doe-eyed hippy, skipping with animals and hugging trees. Garden gnomes do not bear the Stigmata of Christ's wounds.”
While God wrought numerous miracles through this truly holy man, not every word and act attributed to him are legitimately his. Like many great historical figures, some legends and sayings – and even hymns – that we thought came from Il Povorello actually did not. I have often quoted (as have many others) the beautiful expression, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words,” crediting St. Francis. He didn’t say it. The popular hymn, “Prayer of St. Francis,” which begins with the words, “Make me a channel of your peace,” was actually the work of an anonymous author who published it in France in 1912, and not Francis. Tagging the name of a very popular person onto a work usually draws attention, and certainly does in this case.
There is no shortage of bloggers and writers who like to claim that Francis was a vegetarian and would today strongly endorse a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle for all. However, even though Francis ate simply and sparingly and meat was often lacking at his table (as it was for many people), that did not mean that he would not occasionally consume it. In his account of St Francis’ life, Thomas of Celano, who knew the saint, describes an interesting interaction between the beloved saint and one of the early friars, Brother Morico.
“Francis observed the birthday of the Child Jesus with inexpressible eagerness over all other feasts, saying, ‘It is the feast of feasts, on which God, having become a tiny infant, clung to human breasts.’ When the question rose about eating meat that day, since Christmas was a Friday, he [Francis] replied to Brother Morico, ‘You sin, brother, calling the day on which the Child is born to us a day of fast. It is my wish that even the walls should eat meat on such a day; and if they cannot, they should be smeared with meat on the outside.’” (2 Celano, 199). And though Francis had noted regard for all of God’s creatures, he was not very keen on having animals enter a church.
Some claim “Franciscan simplicity” to justify their use of inferior quality vessels and vestments for Holy Mass; that Francis would not approve of expensive appointments for the Altar, and the money should be spent on the poor, etc. The reality is quite to the contrary. Even though he might have donned a well-worn and heavily patched habit, Francis was absolutely meticulous when it came to the ceremonials of the Mass (he was also a deacon), insisting that every sacred vessel and vestment be of the best quality possible; that nothing was too good for the worship of God. Dirty altar linens and chalices angered him more than many other things. His dalmatic (the deacon’s outer Mass vestment) was finely embroidered and richly embellished. He had a great reverence for priests – even for bad ones – because they are the ones who bring Christ to us in the sacraments; especially in the Most Blessed Eucharist We may also be led to believe that after his conversion from being an impious soldier that Francis became an avowed pacifist who would have nothing to do with battle. That may have been so in the worldly sense, but not when it came to being soldier of Christ. Though he may not have personally taken up arms, as Fr. Rutler further notes, He joined the Fifth Crusade, simmering ever since eleven thousand Muslims had invaded Rome and desecrated the tombs of Peter and Paul in the year 846. Francis went to North Africa in 1219 to convert the Muslims and confronted Sultan al Malik al-Kamil, who had just slaughtered five thousand Christians at Damietta. Francis fearlessly told the Sultan: “It is just that Christians invade the land you inhabit, for you blaspheme the name of Christ and alienate everyone you can from His worship.” While counselors called for the beheading of Francis according to Muslim law, the Sultan was so taken with the humility of Francis that he only had him beaten, chained and imprisoned, and then he released him. Francis tried (unsuccessfully) to convert the Sultan to faith in Jesus Christ and to be baptized. This was his main objective. Such is not the reluctant effort of a wimp, but an example of the greatest fortitude; his desire being the glory due to God and the eternal salvation of all those he encountered.
As mentioned above, Francis is often depicted as a tree-hugging, animal-loving, garden gnome. This is the consequence of his popularity, and the expansion of fascinating legends and projections upon of some of his external qualities, while almost summarily ignoring the saint’s relationship with God. With the passage of time, these projections have caused subsequent generations to miss his essence. If Francis loved the poor, nature, and animals it was only because he had such a burning, radical love for the God who created everything and everyone and that he saw all things in God, not God in all things. Without question, Jesus Christ Crucified was the center of Francis’ life, and that is what allowed him to live as close to a Christ-like life as the world has ever seen since Jesus Himself walked this earth, and what so attracts people to this poor friar to this very day... and also why he is still so universally misunderstood.
Father Augustine Thompson, O.P. sums it all up with the saint’s admonitions before his death: “In his final words to his followers, the issue he found most pressing was not poverty, not obedience, but proper reverence for the Eucharist.” Without Jesus Christ, nothing had any importance to him.
“I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you what you are to do. Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.” –St. Francis of Assisi
On this Respect Life Sunday, may St. Francis intercede for us who believe in Jesus Christ to love God more and so to love and protect all human life from creation to natural death.
Father Paul Landolfi, S.M. Everyone knows Father Paul and his many years of service to St. Paul. The Marianists are of invaluable service to us. They maintain our magnificent fields, they administer our religious Education Program on the Confirmation level and the Chaminade students teach in it. They assist the single priest assigned to this large parish all the while asking for nothing or any recognition like true religious. On next Sunday October 11, 2015, Father Paul will celebrate the 9.30AM Mass on the occasion of his sixtieth anniversary as a priest. Afterwards there will be a reception for Father Paul in Monsignor Costa Hall. It is my hope that many parishioners will turn out to congratulate Father Paul.
Gala: We are now in the midst of planning for our annual parish Gala Dinner Dance. As always, I am most grateful to Mrs. Paula Maturo and her dedicated committee who plan this wonderful event. This event is the major fundraiser for our parish. Please see the bulletin for details. The parish gala will be on Friday October 30th. It will be a Dinner Dance at the Milleridge Inn Cottage and its theme will be Casino Night. Our friends the M&M Twins (Marco and Michael Posillico, whom I have known for 25 years) will present a wonderful evening of entertainment. St. Paul’s depends on this fundraiser. It is my fond hope that many parishioners will come together for this fundraiser so that we may continue to exist as a viable and vibrant parish.
Parish Ministry Fair: Please see the bulletin about our ministry fair which will be October 17th and 18th. This is a wonderful opportunity to see all the good things that have been happening here at St. Paul’s and how you can be part of it. I am grateful to Joe and Linda Curro who have worked along with all the ministry leaders for many months in this regard.
Solemn High Mass for the Feast of the Blessed Karl of Austria: On Tuesday evening, October 20th at 7.00PM here at St. Paul’s. there will be a Solemn High Mass in the Traditional Latin Rite (Extraordinary Form) to commemorate the Blessed Karl of Austria. This will be a grace filled event at which many priests will be present. Dom Daniel Nash, Can. Reg, the pastor of St. Patrick in Glen Cove, will be our preacher that evening. The music will be a wonderful setting of the Mass by the famous Renaissance composer Palestrina. I would encourage all parishioners to attend this Mass to pray for peace in the world. The members of the Sovereign Order of Malta as well as the Members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher are cordially invited to process. (Vesting will be in Monsignor Costa Hall at 6.30).
May God bless You,
May Mary Keep You
Monsignor James F. Pererda