In the opening prayer of the Mass in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, we ask our heavenly Father that “we may follow your Son by walking in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi and by imitating his joyful love.”
I had a wonderful taste of that joyful love of the Church for Saint Francis of Assisi when, on October 3, 1993, my travel companions and I arrived in Assisi to celebrate this great feast which is especially meaningful to us Dominicans since Saints Dominic and Francis were personal friends and we speak of each of them as “Our Holy Father.” There was no possibility of finding lodging in Assisi that night since thousands come to celebrate the feast of Saint Francis in the town of his birth, life, and death. So we went to the neighboring town of Spello, on the other side of Mount Subasio, to find hotel rooms, and then returned to Assisi to celebrate Saint Francis’s death on the night of Oct. 3, 1226. As we were leaving the little city, the townspeople were following an ancient custom of placing thousands of lamps on the city walls, outlining them in flickering firelight which was simply beautiful as we drove away from the town and could enjoy the sight of its parapets from the perspective of some distance.
The next day, after celebrating Mass at the monastery of the Poor Clares (Franciscan cloistered nuns) in Spello, we returned to Assisi for all the festivities in honor of Saint Francis. Each region of Italy — there are twenty of them — sends a delegation of its citizens to represent it at Assisi on the feast of Saint Francis. They come with their regional costumes, musical instruments, singers and dancers, and the nearby areas send wagons pulled by oxen, mules, or horses, all decorated in appropriate finery. It was a delightful experience! Assisi is made all the more impressive by so many actual objects associated with Saint Francis: the house of his birth, the baptismal font in which he was baptized; churches he attended, a tiny chapel which he rebuilt with his own hands and which became the cradle of the Franciscan spirituality, and then his tomb deep down in the recesses of the great basilica of San Francesco.
The story is told that one time, one of his friars came to Saint Francis and asked his permission to go to school to study the sacred sciences. But Francis had founded not an order of intellectuals but of poor men who would simply preach the love and goodness of God. So he told the petitioning friar, “You don’t need to go to school. Just say the ‘Glory be to the Father . . .’ often, with as much devotion as you can, and you will learn all you need to know.” That is very good advice for most of us, too. It is not erudition that we need; it is love. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God Bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.