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St. Francis of Assisi died on October 4, 1226. It seems right that we continue to reflect on his life and teachings during October. Last month I wrote about the interpretation that St. Francis of Assisi placed upon the birth and death of Jesus which showed the chosen poverty and humility of God in the circumstances of the birth of Jesus as a human, his life as a preacher, and in his death on the cross. This humility and poverty of God continued to be seen by St. Francis daily in the Eucharist.
St. Francis of Assisi held the cross upon which Jesus died with great devotion. We are told that when Francis, as a young man, prayed before a crucifix at a run-down church in Assisi named San Damiano a voice from the cross spoke to him. In that voice he heard Jesus speaking to him, saying: “Francis, don’t you see that my house is being destroyed”? Go, then, and rebuild it for me.” The voice from the cross inspired Francis to begin to literally rebuild the church of San Damiano with stones that he purchased with his own money. It was only later that he became aware that the church that was falling into ruins was a call to renew the faith of many believers which had begun to diminish. We know also that St. Francis held the symbol of the cross dear to his heart. He often signed his writings with a “tau” a form of the cross with a bent cross beam.
We don’t know much about the circumstances of the early life of Jesus when he lived in his home with Joseph and Mary. We know that Joseph was a carpenter, the income from which probably provided a financially secure life for his family. But at some time before Jesus turned 30 years of age Joseph died, a death about which we know nothing. But whenever Joseph died it would have plunged Jesus and Mary into dire circumstances. Jesus may have attempted to continue the trade of being a carpenter, but he would not have been able to be as good at it as his step-father was.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians attempted to explain how the way in which God chose to become human should influence our behavior as well. He writes:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself… (Philippians 2:5-8)
For St. Francis the poverty and humility of God was evident in many ways in the life of Jesus, first of all, in the circumstances of his birth.