When you think of St. Francis of Assisi what is your first impression? Maybe you think of the popular statue in the middle of the garden with a bird on his shoulder or even picture him stopping to talk to every animal in sight. Perhaps another image would be more appropriate. It is the image of small poorly dressed man holding up a crumbling Lateran Basilica with his shoulder. Pope Innocent III had this image in a dream after he had first denied Francis approval of the First Rule.
One word comes to mind when to describe the virtue of St. Francis—humility. St. Francis understood that any humility that we ourselves have is ultimately nothing compared to the Humility of the God-man, Jesus Christ. For Francis, this Humility was manifested in three ways: the Christmas Crib, the Cross and the Holy Eucharist.
Francis knew that you cannot love anything that you cannot get your arms around. Our God became a bundle of about 6 or 7 pounds so we could get our arms and our hearts around Incarnate Love. He went from Creator status to creature status in order to show us the humility in which we should approach Him. Francis saw in the poor and humble Christ Child a God who was willing to stoop down to our level to embrace us.
33 years later, those tiny limbs would be nailed to the Cross. Surely, He as God could have come down from that Cross. It is only Love that kept Him bound. Francis cry throughout his life was “Love is not loved.” We know that Francis prayed for two things in his life, first, that he would experience in his own body, as much as could be experienced, the suffering the Lord endured during His Passion and second, that he would have the same Love that Christ had in His Heart for His Father and each of us on His way to Calvary. Francis knew that he could not endure the suffering without the love to sustain him. He knew that there is no true humility without humiliation. Our Lord teaches us humility by His own humiliation in His Passion and Death on the Cross. He became the despised, the leper on the Cross. Here is the ultimate lesson in humility!
On the night before Jesus died, He showed us the depth of His Humility in instituting the Holy Eucharist. Daily, still, He humbles Himself to come down from the bosom of the Father in the form of bread and wine. Francis saw this as the greatest act of humility that the Lord so humbles Himself and makes Himself vulnerable in our hands in such a frail way. He was placed in a feeding trough as a baby only to foreshadow that He would become the humble food for us sinners. Francis love for the Holy Eucharist is manifested in a Letter he wrote to the entire Order:
Let the whole of mankind tremble the whole world shake and the heavens exult when
Christ, the Son of the living God, is on the altar in the hands of a priest. O admirable heights and sublime lowliness! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the little form of bread! Look, brothers, at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves, as well, that you may be exalted by Him. Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.
Saint Francis provides for us still today an example of humility. May the same utterance of the Lord from the Cross to Francis come to each one of us: “Francis, rebuild My Church, for as you can see it is falling into ruin.”
Holy Father St. Francis, pray for us!
Br. John Paul Mary, MFVA