Today’s Gospel reading, in which the seventy-two disciples return from their missionary journey announcing the good news and taking nothing with them for the journey, was one that today’s saint, Saint Francis of Assisi, took to heart. Francis’s life was devoted to poverty of spirit, serving the poor, and proclaiming the Gospel. Saint Francis sought to follow the Gospel as closely as he possibly could, making every effort to live as our Lord lived and even to die as he died.
Saint Francis’s conversion came when he was very young. He had contracted a serious illness, and spent a good deal of time in intense and difficult prayer. In that time of prayer, our Lord called Francis to renounce everything that people who live according to the flesh tend to desire, and to embrace everything that the world tended to shrink from. He did this by embracing an leper, and piled all of his earthly possessions – including the clothes he was wearing – before his father, who had demanded that he give restitution for the gifts he had given to the poor.
Prayer before the cross in the crumbling church of San Damiano led Saint Francis to seek to reform the Church. Our Lord told him to “go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down.” Francis saw that our Lord was not merely referring to that church, even though it was nearly in ruins. He saw the ruin of the Church as a whole at a difficult period of history and sought to build it back up by authentically preaching and living the Gospel.
He didn’t seek to found a religious order, but it happened anyway. People were drawn to the way that he lived the faith, and so he wrote a rule of life for his followers which began as a collection of texts from the Gospels. When he was pressed to form the Franciscan order, he did it willingly and did everything he needed to do to create the legal structure the Church required.
During the last years of his life, Saint Francis received the stigmata. During his last hours, he received permission to have his clothing removed so that he could die naked on the earth, as Our Lord died. On his deathbed, he prayed the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, “Be praised, O Lord, for our sister death.”
Saint Francis is well-known for the Canticle of the Sun, and his famous prayer. But he is also credited with composing the song we began with this morning, “All Creatures of our God and King.” His devotion to the Church, to the gospel, to the creatures of the earth, and most especially to our Lord inspires people even today. And his dedication to rebuilding the Church is one that our current pope took on when he chose his papal name. Through the intercession of Saint Francis, may we all find true joy in following our Lord and his call in all things.