Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, probably the best loved saint! He was born in 1182 to a wealthy merchant, joined the military, and lived the life of a privileged young man until he experienced a conversion and decided to live in poverty as Christ did. He was joined by many followers who also embraced poverty and simplicity.
One day, while praying in front of the crucifix at the abandoned church of San Damiano, he experienced a vision of Christ, speaking to him from the cross. Christ told him, "Francis, go out and rebuild my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis, taking the command literally, began to rebuild the building, and worked on many derelict chapels to build them again. However, the command he was given was to model out a new way of being Church - to embrace the simplicity and poverty of Christ, and to share this with the rest of the Church.
He renounced all possessions and trappings of his former life and became a beggar, spreading the word of the joy of the faith, the command to share all possessions with the poor, to honor all of Creation, especially the animals. He is the patron saint of animals, of love for the earth, of Italy and of merchants.
He died at the age of 44, after receiving the gift of the stigmata of Christ, sharing the same wounds in his hands, feet and side. He was surrounded by his Franciscan brothers as he died, naked, lacking any possessions, in imitation of Jesus.
Last night at the Cathedral, we celebrated the vigil of his feast by commemorating the Transitus of Francis from earthly life to eternal life. It was a beautiful service!
If there are any Franciscans in your community, congratulate them on the feast of their beloved founder, and if you don't encounter any Franciscans, then pet the nearest dog, cat, guinea pig, cow, pig, llama, rhinoceros, giraffe or any other animal you may come across today!
Gwinnie, God rest his soul!