On October 4 the Church celebrates the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the “Little Poor Man” whose life has inspired people of all faiths for over 800 years. G. K. Chesterton said of St. Francis, “He was a poet whose entire life was a poem.” And certainly most of us are familiar with the poem’s main events: St. Francis embracing the leper, Christ asking him to rebuild his Church, St. Francis disrobing and renouncing all of his possessions, risking his life to preach to the Sultan, and becoming the first person ever recorded to have the stigmata.
The downside of being so familiar with a saint’s life story, however, is that it starts to seem more like a fairy tale and less like a true account of a real person’s faith and heroism that can be an inspiration to us to live our lives differently today. It would be a tragedy to do this with St. Francis, because his life is overflowing with inspiration for anyone who would like to live the gospel and grow closer to God. And while the stories of Francis preaching to the birds, taming the wolf of Gubbio, and fasting for forty days on half a loaf of bread are beautiful and deeply moving, it may be difficult for some people to see how these events can be applied to the issues we face today. For those of us who feel that we have little in common with St. Francis the miracle worker, it may be helpful to look at Francis before his conversion. This can help us remember that he was a real man, with real ambitions, desires, and weaknesses, just like us, who was able, with God’s grace, to choose the things of heaven over the things of the world.
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