But what many
people overlook is that Francis lived in an age very much like our
own. Francis was not just a loving man. He was also a formidable
one, because he had to be. The 13th century was a time of great
political unrest and great confusion and corruption in the Church.
Francis began his life submerged in that world. He was comfortable.
He was selfish. He was shallow. But finally, he was also hungry
for something more in his life and once he found it, he pursued
it without compromise. What Franciscans remember about St. Francis
is his demand that we live the Gospel sine glossa without
gloss, without excuses, without interpretations to make discipleship
easier or more comfortable.
a revolutionary in the truest sense. He wanted a radical commitment
to holiness from his brothers, holiness in the root meaning of the
word. Holy doesn't mean good, and it doesn't mean nice although
holy people are always good, and they're also frequently nice. Holy
means "other than." Francis wanted to be different, as
Jesus was different. Francis wanted to live in the presence of God,
as Jesus did. He wanted to live and act in ways "other than"
the ways of this world.
Francis from all the other reformers of his day was one simple thing.
He understood that he could never live out his love for God alone,
or even with a group of friends. He needed the larger family of
faith Jesus founded. So he never allowed himself or his brothers
to separate the Gospel from the Church, or the Church from Jesus
always a son of the Church. And as a son, he sometimes scandalized
his brothers because he always insisted on fidelity and obedience
to the Holy Father and reverence for priests and bishops
even the ones whose sins meant they didn't deserve it. What Francis
heard from Jesus on the Cross of San Damiano was not "replace
my Church" or "reinvent my Church," but "repair
my Church." And he did that in the only way that lasts
one stone at a time, with the living stones of his own life and
the lives he changed through his personal witness.
If we want
to be disciples and make disciples; if we want to repair the Lord's
Church in the shadow of a terrible sexual misconduct scandal; we
need to understand that new policies and programs and reforms in
the Church will be important. We certainly need them. But without
saints, nothing we do will work. Without holy men and women on fire
with Jesus Christ, in love with His Church, and zealous in preaching
the Catholic faith through their words and actions, nothing will
We can't give
what we don't have. If Jesus Christ and a real Catholic identity
don't burn in the interior cathedral of our hearts, we can never
possibly rebuild the external life of the Church in the world.