From Deacon Dick
St. Francis of Assisi
He was a child of privilege. Money was plentiful. His youth was spent running with his friends. He was seductively charming … generous … popular. In his early 20’s, his ordeal as a prisoner of war left him scarred and weakened. Upon his release, he pursued a career in the upper ranks of the military and relished his new found status as “an officer and a gentleman” of his time. Life was very good! Then something happened that transformed the life of this young man named Francesco from Assisi … a life we joyfully celebrate on October 4.
So, what happened? In a dream, Francis heard a heavenly voice that urged him to “serve the master, not the man.” And so he returned to Assisi and began to see the world in a new way … the parties and “good times” became monotonous and he started to live more simply … more prayerfully. Riding his horse one day, he was repulsed at the sight of a “leper” along the way, yet the power of his dream gave him the courage to dismount and embrace that lowly man. Francis, the deacon, gave this man the best he had … the gift of hospitality, compassion and dignity … the gift of Christ. Francis was now intimately identified and integrated with the poor … with those at the bottom … and it had begun when he accepted the leper as part of himself.
And so Francis formed a community, the Order of Friars Minor (OFM). Contrary to our usual way of thinking (especially if you’re a baseball fan), Francis wanted to be sure his brothers stayed in the minors so that they would never fall back into the world view of the majors. He knew that there is power in being a somebody, but there is truth in being a nobody.
Francis’ transformation has everything to do with what spiritual writers call “beginners mind.” Francis returned to Assisi with a beginners mind … a view from the bottom where he heard the Gospel without the need to manipulate it for his own purposes. Francis’ life invites us into “beginners mind” where we are invited to surrender to the living God with the trust of a child … getting ourselves out of the way.
But that’s not easy for us. As adults we’ve learned to think in judgmental ways (who’s right and who’s wrong) … to think in dualistic ways (where the answer is always “either/or” rather than “both/and”). We become so attached to our opinions … our ideas … our ideologies that we become excessively self-protective. As we age, we say with increasing confidence … BUT I KNOW! Notice in Scripture that whenever the disciples start to get heady or smug, Jesus brings forth a child ... the symbol of beginners mind … and says: You need to start over like a child or you can’t begin to experience a glimpse of God’s kingdom here and now.
As we begin this first day of the rest or our lives, may we look to the example of Francis who knew that he was radically unfinished … that he would always be the student. As he was fond of saying: “Let us begin again, for up to now we have done nothing.”