Saint Francis of Assisi once shared with his fellow friars: “Blessed is the servant who does not consider himself any better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and looked down upon, for what a person is before God, that he is and no more.”
As we begin our 135th anniversary celebration this month, let’s remember that advice. For each of us personally, what really matters is how God sees us, not what other people think.
History calls Saint Francis the “vir Catholicus” — the embodiment of everything a Catholic should be; a person filled with faith, joy, simplicity, courage, charity, and zeal for Jesus Christ. And so he was.
But what many people overlook is that Francis lived in an age very much like our own. Francis was not just a loving man. He was also a formidable one, because he had to be. The 13th century was a time of great political unrest and deep confusion and corruption in the Church. Francis began his life submerged in that world. He was comfortable. He was selfish. He was shallow. But finally, he was also hungry for something more in his life — and once he found it, he pursued it totally.
Francis wanted to live the Gospel without gloss, without excuses to make being a disciple easier or more comfortable. Francis was a revolutionary in the truest sense. He wanted a radical commitment to holiness from his brothers.
The word “Holy” doesn’t mean good, and it doesn’t mean nice. Holy comes from the Hebrew word “qados,” meaning “other than.” Francis wanted to be different, just as Jesus was different. Francis wanted to live in the presence of God, just as Jesus did. He wanted to live and act in ways “other than” the ways of this world.
What distinguished Francis from many of the other reformers of his day was one simple thing. He understood that he could never live out his love for God alone, or even with a group of friends. He needed the larger family of faith that Jesus founded. He needed the Church. So he never allowed himself or his brothers to separate the Gospel from the Church, or the Church from Jesus Christ.
Francis was always a son of the Church. And as a son, he always insisted on fidelity and obedience to the Holy Father and reverence for priests and bishops — even the ones whose sins meant that they didn’t deserve it. What Francis heard from Jesus on the Cross at San Damiano was not “replace my Church” or “reinvent my Church,” but “rebuild my Church.” And Francis did that in the only way that lasts — one stone at a time, with the living stones of his own life and the lives he changed through his personal witness.
As we celebrate our 135th Anniversary, I thank Bishop Golka and all of you for your prayers and support! I love being with you and walking with you in the footsteps of those who started building our parish way back in 1888. Bishop Golka gave permission for pastors to replace the St. Michael prayer after Mass with an appropriate prayer for the National Eucharistic Revival. What more appropriate prayer can we offer than that named after Saint Francis:
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord.
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, only light. And where there’s
sadness, ever joy.
O Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be
consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
In giving of ourselves that we receive.
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life.
May the Lord give you peace!
Reverend Mark Zacker, Pastor