Centenary of the Founding of the Little Sisters of Saint Francis
Solemnity of Saint Francis of Assisi – October 1, 2022 – Christ the King Parish, Archbald
When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope in March 2013, his first surprise for Church was his selection of a name: Francis – the first time that name was ever chosen in the two thousand year history of the papacy. And he chose the name quite particularly because of the beloved saint’s deep appreciation for the poor, the marginalized, the suffering and all those for whom Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was made. … He chose the name because Francis of Assisi was devoted to preaching God’s mercy, determined to make the Church reflect the life of its Savior and ever grateful for the gifts of life and creation with which we’ve all been blessed. … He chose the name to remind us all that our responsibility as disciples of Jesus is to make the pattern of his life our own!
It’s often the case that when reflecting upon this revered saint, we readily succumb to an appreciation of him that is far less than what it should be, almost trivializing his message and example – surrounding him with birds and animals and our beloved pets. Yet, there was little in the life of Francis of Assisi that was anything short of monumental in his resolve to embrace the life of Jesus and make it his own. “Here is our rule,” Francis said to his followers, as simple and as impossible as it may have seemed. “Live by the Gospel.”
In many ways, St. Francis’ life mirrored that of Jesus, didn’t it? Despite being born into a family of wealth and power, Francis set it all aside and in a rather insignificant way wandered around small villages preaching to whomever would listen – just as Jesus did. With no political or material status, he changed the world through his example. He presented a revolutionary way of thinking that was so simple, anyone of us could do the same. All one needed to do was to follow the Gospel, live simply and show joy to the world.
Yet, it was in his radical embrace of the Gospel message that the saint did, in fact, set himself apart from so many others. Francis was uniquely open to the grace of God that enabled him to make as his own the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians proclaimed in our second reading this afternoon: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Francis’ life, no different than our own, was fraught with suffering, disappointment, rejection, ridicule, pain and grief. But Francis was able to find his peace through the Savior he proclaimed throughout his life. Pope Francis put it best in words that he shared during a homily on the saint’s feast day in 2013, just a few months following his election as pope: “How does Saint Francis witness to us today? What does he have to say to us, not merely with words but by his life? The first thing he tells us is this: that being a Christian means having a living relationship with the person of Jesus; it means putting on Christ, being conformed to him.” The Holy Father went on, “Teach us, Francis, to remain before the cross, to let the crucified Christ gaze upon us, to let ourselves be forgiven, and recreated by his love.”
It was indeed in that unique relationship, rooted in the cross, that Francis found his hope and his courage to preach the gospel without compromise. It was also where he discovered the joy that has so consistently permeated his legacy to the Church and to people of all faith traditions.
So many of the hopes and dreams that we have for ourselves as Christians and for our Church are reflected in the life and ministry of this simple, humble soul from a little village called Assisi who lived 800 years ago. While Francis’ legacy to the Church and to the world is immeasurable, today we are blessed to celebrate one very powerful example of how the life of this saint continues to touch our lives and our own local Church.
What a gift the Little Sisters of Saint Francis have been to us and to all those parts of our world that have been touched by their faith and by their ministry. Sisters, as you celebrate the 100th anniversary of your founding by Mother Mary Kevin Kearney to serve the Church in Uganda, Africa, the growth of your community has been immeasurable. During the course of a century your presence in Africa, the United States and to other areas of the globe is testimony to your faith and to the relationship with Jesus that your patron, Francis of Assisi, reminds us is foundational to discipleship and the Christian way.
Rooted in Saint Francis’ vision, you care selflessly for the sick and suffering, you serve the poor and the marginalized, and you teach young and old about life and especially about faith. Like your patron, you continually invite others to join you in your journey of faith and the ministry of service. You are truly a blessing to so many, including us. Thank you!
Saint Francis often encouraged his followers, “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Sisters, may our loving God sustain you in the work that you do – a work that to many may seem impossible – but to those with eyes of faith, a work that flows through your hands from the heart of Jesus, our life and our salvation.