Homily on St. Francis of Assisi (03-12-1982)
Saint Francis save your people from ruin
After his meeting with the Italian Episcopal Conference in Assisi on Friday, 12 March, the Holy Father and the bishops concelebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis. Pope John Paul II delivered the following homily.
1. "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to little ones" (Mt 11:25).
We come here, dear brothers, to repeat these words with Christ the Lord to "bless the Father";
-- we come to bless him for what he revealed eight centuries ago to a Little One, to the Poverello of Assisi;
-- things in heaven and on earth that "philosophers had never dreamed of";
-- things hidden from those who are only humanly "wise" and only humanly "clever";
-- these "things" the Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, has revealed to Francis and through Francis.
Through Francis, the son of Pietro di Bernardone, a rich merchant of Assisi, the son who abandoned the whole inheritance of his earthly father and married "Lady Poverty" -- the inheritance of the heavenly Father given him in Christ crucified and risen.
The first purpose of this year's pilgrimage of ours to Assisi is to give glory to God.
In a spirit of veneration we celebrate the Eucharist together, all of us, pastors of the Church which is in Italy with the Bishop of Rome, Peter's Successor.
Alive after eight centuries
2. "Yes, Father, for so it has pleased you" (Mt 11:26).
After eight centuries the relies and the mementos remain. All Assisi is a living relic and a testimony of the man. Of only the man? Of only the extraordinary man?
It is the testimony of a special satisfaction that the heavenly Father through the work of his only begotten Son, had in this man in this "little one", in the "Poverello" in Francis, who -- as very few in the course of the history of the Church and of mankind -- learned from Christ to be meek and humble of heart.
Yes, Father, such was your pleasure. So many men come here to follow the footsteps of your pleasure. We, the bishops of Italy, come here today.
We have come in this jubilee year of St. Francis of Assisi to close, and at the same time crown, the work carried out during the whole year of the "ad limina Apostolorum" visit, to which the tradition and the law of the Church called our episcopate precisely at this time.
Everything comes from the Father
3. We are here in the presence of the Saint who is at the same time the Patron of Italy, hence he who among the numerous canonized and beatified sons and daughters of this land particularly unites Italy with the Church. In fact, the Church's task is to proclaim and fulfill in every nation that vocation to sanctity which we have from the Father in the Holy Spirit through the work of Christ crucified and risen; this Christ whose wounds St. Francis of Assisi bore in his own body: "for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (Gal 6:17).
We are here in his presence then, we meditate on the words of the Gospel, phrase after phrase: "Everything has been given to me by my Father; no one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son has wished to reveal him" (Mt 11:27).
So we find ourselves in front of a man to whom the Son of God has wished to reveal, in a particular degree and with special abundance, what was given to him by the Father for all men, for all times. Certainly, Francis was sent with the Gospel of Christ especially to his own times, at the turn of the 12th century, at the height of the Italian Middle Ages, which was a period splendid and difficult at the same time: but every era has preserved something of this in itself. Still the Franciscan mission is not yet ended; it is still going on.
And here we are, bishops and pastors of the Church. to whom have been entrusted the Gospel and the Church of our times -- how apparently splendid, how far removed from the Middle Ages, to judge by our earthly progress and at the same time, how so very difficult -- we bishops and pastors of the Church in this same Italy pray above all for one thing. We pray that the same words of our Master, which were fulfilled in St. Francis, may be fulfilled in us; that we may be the sure stewards of the Revelation of the Son! that we may be faithful administrators of what the Father himself has handed over to his only begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary through the working of the Holy Spirit. That we may be administrators of this truth and this salvation, which all humanity and every man and every nation have in him and from him; because "no one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son and he to whom the Son wishes to reveal him" (Mt 11:27).
This is the pastoral and apostolic purpose of our pilgrimage today.
Spirit of Francis
4. And so, Francis seems to address us and speak to us with the words of Paul the Apostle: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers"! (Gal 6:18).
Thank you, Holy Poverello, for these wishes with which you are receiving us!
Looking at your figure with the eyes of the spirit and meditating on the words of the Letter to the Galatians, with which the liturgy speaks to us today, we wish to learn from you this "belonging to Jesus", of which your whole life was such a perfect example and model.
"Far be it from me. . . that I boast in anything extent in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal 6:14).
We hear the words of Paul, which are also, Francis, your words. Your spirit is expressed in them. Jesus Christ has allowed you, as once he allowed that Apostle, to become a "chosen instrument" (Acts 9:15), to "boast", only and exclusively, in the Cross of our Redemption.
In this way you arrived at the very heart of the knowledge of the truth about God, about the world, and about man; truth which can be seen only with the eyes of love.
Now that we stand before you as successors of the Apostles. sent to the men of our times with the same Gospel of the Cross of Christ, Paul taught you to have "no other boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ". May each of us with all the cleverness of the gift of fear, hope and strength be able to penetrate the truth of these words about: the Cross in which the "new creatures" begins, about the Cross that constantly brings to mankind peace and mercy".
Through the Cross God expresses himself up to the end of man's history God who is rich in mercy" (Ep 2:4) On the Cross is revealed the glory of the love that is ready to do everything. Only with the Cross in his hand -- like an open book -- can man learn himself and his dignity to the very depths.
In the end, fixing his eyes on the Cross he must ask himself: Who am I man, in the eyes of God, if he asks such a price for me and my love!
The Cross on Calvary," I wrote in the Encyclical Redemptor Hominus through which Jesus Christ -- a man -- the son of the Virgin Mary, thought to be the son of Joseph of Nazareth -- "leaves" this world, is also a fresh manifestation -- of the eternal fatherhood of God, who in him draws near again to humanity to each human being, giving him the thrice holy Spirit of Truth (cf. Jn 16:13). . . His is a love that does not draw back before anything that justice requires in him. Therefore for our sake (God) made him (the Son) to be sin who knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21; cf. Gal 3:13). He made to be sin him who was without any sin whatever, it was to reveal the love that is always greater than the whole of creation, the love that is he himself, since "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8, 16)" (n. 9).
Precisely in this way, Francis, you have looked on things. They called you the "Poverello of Assisi", and you were and -- have remained one of the men who has most generously given to others. You therefore have an enormous wealth, a great treasure. And the secret of your wealth is hidden in the Cross of Christ.
Teach us, bishops and pastors of the twentieth century that is nearing its end, to boast likewise in the Cross, teach us this wealth in poverty and this giving in abundance.
Like the morning star and the moon
5. In the first reading from the Book of Sirach are recorded the words of the high priest Simon, son of Onias who "in his life repaired the temple and in his time fortified the sanctuary" (Sir 50:1).
The liturgy applies these words to Francis of Assisi. He remains in tradition, in literature, in art: "as the one who repaired the temple and fortified the sanctuary". As the one who considered how to save his people from ruin and fortified the City to withstand a siege" (Sir 50:4).
The reading still continues speaking of Simon, the son of Onias, and we apply these words to Francis, the son of Pietro di Bernardone. We apply to him these comparisons as well: "Like the morning star among the like the moon when it is full, like the sun shining upon the temple of the Most High, and like the rainbow gleaming in glorious cloud (ibid 50:6-7).
We thank you for St. Francis
6. We gladly borrow these words from the Book of Sirach to venerate, after eight hundred years, Francis of Assisi, the Patron of Italy.
It is for this that we have all come here, bishops and pastors of the Church that is in all of Italy, together with the Bishop of Rome, Peter's Successor.
Nevertheless, the purpose of our pilgrimage is particularly apostolic and pastoral.
When we hear Christ's words about the yoke that is sweet and the burden that is light (cf. Mt 11:30), we think of our mission as bishops and of our pastoral service.
And we repeat with confidence and with joy the words of the Responsorial Psalm:
"I said to the Lord, 'You are my Lord,
I have no good apart from you'.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup: in his hands is my life.
I, bless the Lord who gives me counsel. . .
to keep the Lord always before me, he is at my right hand, I cannot be moved" (Ps 15).
We have accepted with joy the invitation to come here to Assisi, heard in a certain way in the words of our Lord and Master: "Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you" (Mt 11:28). We hope that they will be fulfilled in all of us, as also those further words: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Mt 11:29).
This is what we want, Christ! This is what we desire! With this thought we have come to Assisi today. We thank you for the holy "burden" of the priesthood and the episcopate. We thank you for St. Francis, who did not deem himself worthy to accept priestly ordination. To him also, in such an exceptional way, you have entrusted your Church.
Save your people
7. And so, looking towards Francis who, "poor and humble, enters heaven rich, honored with celestial hymns" (Gospel Acclamation), we would wish also to apply to him the words of the Book of Sirach that so well summarize his famous vision: "Francis, consider how to save your people from ruin"!
Francis! As during your life, so also now, repair the temple! Fortify the sanctuary!
For this we pray, we the pastors of the Church which in the school of the Second Vatican Council has learned anew to surround with a common concern the Church, Italy, and the modern world.
And with our greatly beloved populations we repeat:
"The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup: in his hands is my life.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel. . .
I keep the Lord always before me."
Yes, brothers and sisters, always! And may it be so.
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