Loving God in poverty of spirit and simplicity of life is seeing Christ among us in the poor and those whom we dislike — recognizing our own fragility, vulnerability, and weakness — and seeking the perfect answers in the Gospel teaching of Jesus. In this Year of Mercy — this Jubilee Year — we are reminded that we are liberated by the cross of Jesus Christ and we live by his glorious resurrection.
Lent is upon us brothers and sisters. Even as we still vacuum up the remnants of stubborn Christmas glitter in our living rooms, we are called to ante up to the resolutions for the New Year with an eye of Lenten sacrifice.
But there is more. We have entered a Jubilee Year – a time marked by the Church and convoked by the pope called Francis – to seek the life of grace by recognizing Christ and responding to his presence in our midst.
Francis of Assisi understood mercy as God intended – a gift of love that is so compelling one can only bow one’s head in awe at the incredible generosity of the Donor. Mercy calls forth humility in those who share in its power – its unconditional invitation to resilience and optimism. Mercy draws the believer into the glory of every parable of Jesus that offers grace, a second chance, a new opportunity, recognition of discipleship and an entry into life as a son or daughter of God!
Among the aspects of Franciscan spirituality that have been engraved into the fleshy part of my heart, I find the major characteristics of Francis’ own grand, evangelical worldview something worth reflecting on this Lent. For Francis of Assisi, God’s work with the human person was neither a mistake nor a simple, amusing cure for divine boredom.
St. Francis of Assisi was a visionary with extraordinary perception and inspiration. Both of these qualities served him well. He was able to recognize the depth and truth of the Gospel and this insight empowered his ability to live these truths in such a manner as has never quite been lived since.
Astonishingly enough today, a Jesuit – the first of his order to assume the papacy – has chosen Francis of Assisi as a spiritual life coach. With the authority of the vicar of Christ, Pope Francis is giving the Franciscan evangelical worldview a fresh look through a similarly hard-hearted and materialistic society.
One must clearly understand that Francis of Assisi saw the world as good – created by God’s abundance and love to provide for the basic needs of his creatures. For Francis, to live in the world and appreciate its gifts was always to depend upon the Creator – dependence upon God. Poverty and simplicity of life flowed freely from such a pure worldview.
Francis understood that Creation in and of itself was God’s act of love to unite himself to all that he had created – the bridge for such an action was his only begotten Son. Thus, all of creation finds its meaning, purpose, identity and joy in Jesus Christ and is fulfilled in and through him with real and eternal life with the Father.
In Jesus Christ, according to Francis’ view, the human person finds his way through life’s fragile, limited and vulnerable dimensions. In Christ, humanity finds strength, compassion and love. The imitation of Christ is the ultimate foundation of human freedom and dignity. This, of course, is the marrow of the Gospel and the radical practice and fidelity by which St. Francis has made himself the model of Gospel living and the mirror of Christ in history.
The Jesuit pope who bears the name of Francis has done his best in the short time of his reign to stir up the elements that intrigue most of us about the reality of the Gospel and its relevance in our own day. Despite how society often regards the Bible as some kind of fairy tale, the pope believes what the Gospels tell us, and that has historically proven to be very dangerous.
The saint of Assisi and the pope who bears his name, both seem to arouse in us a great way to practice virtue and ponder mercy in this season of Lent. I hope we can enter into this mystery. Blessed Lent to you – see you at Sunday Mass.