Posted On May 1, 2020

St. Francis of Assisi: Apostle of fatherhood and brotherhood

The Lord bless you and keep you. May He show His face to you and have mercy.
May He turn His countenance to you and give you peace. The Lord bless you, brother Leo.

 St. Francis pronounced these words of blessing to his companion and friend, Brother Leo, in a time when Leo was going through spiritual desolation.

I would love this month to have St. Francis accompanying us in our journey with the saints and repeating this blessing with that same love and strength. Interestingly enough, the centuries that separate us from his life could not erase the memory of his words of blessing that we can still read nowadays on the parchment kept intact in the lower basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy.

Francis borrowed these words from Scripture that in the book of Numbers (Nm. 6:24-26) quotes, The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!

It is beautiful to see how Saints do not make up anything but speak from the very word of God, repeating to us everything the Lord has already said but that so often we forget. Saints are full of that Spirit that Jesus assured would teach us everything and remind all that he himself had shared with us, “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.” (Jn. 14:26).

I believe Francis is revealing through this blessing two aspects of his spirituality:
The first one is the deep conviction of God’s Fatherhood that allowed him to live the Gospel radically and in a way that was totally dependent on His providence; indeed, Francis believed that the Father had already shared every good thing in the gift of His Crucified Son. This conviction made him perform the dramatic action of stripping himself of all his clothes before his father, his family, the people in Assisi and even the Bishop; he desired in this way to proclaim his faith in the existence of a Provident Father in heaven that frees us from the constant need of trusting in earthly riches whether they may be money, power or honor.

Because of this conviction everything became for him a source of blessing and benevolence from God. One time when his eyes were very sick, he was supposed to undergo a painful and delicate surgery that would cauterize the veins on his head with a red-hot iron; scared of the pain, Francis blessed brother Fire and begged him to soften its power; the physical element obeyed that gentle command and did not cause any pain to the saint amid the astonishment of the bystanders.

Also, in Francis’ words of blessing we can perceive the strength of the faith in a Father that always says good things about his children because He has created them, desires them and loves them. God’s blessing is expressed through a few simple verbs: to keep, to show his face, to have mercy and to give peace. These are actions from a Father who encourages because he protects, he is present with a loving gaze that follows his children’s journey, he is able to forgive and raise one up again and gives peace because he knows everything will be well.

Let the words of another “Francis”, our Pope, accompany us with a homily that will not easily be forgotten:
“Tonight we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope.  It is a new and living hope that comes from God.  It is not mere optimism; it is not a pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, with a passing smile. No.  It is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own.  Over these weeks, we have kept repeating, “All will be well”, clinging to the beauty of our humanity and allowing words of encouragement to rise up from our hearts.  But as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate.  Jesus’ hope is different.  He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life.” (Easter Vigil homily, April 11, 2020)

The second element in St. Francis’ spirituality that appears in this blessing is the strong sense of solidarity and brotherhood:
As children of the same Father we are called to carry on our shoulders the pain and labor of our brothers and help them in their journey by encouraging them not to give up. This encouragement is not based on the qualities or goodness we see in the person but on the fact that it is God who blesses them, who says good and holy things about them giving them the strength to raise their eyes and continue to walk also when they are scared. This brotherhood is the care and the gift of ourselves to others based on the fact that the Lord Jesus gave himself to each one of us till the end and He has taught us to do the same. Therefore, we are called, like the Pope says, to announce life in a time of death.
“…the message of hope should not be confined to our sacred places, but should be brought to everyone. For everyone is in need of reassurance, and if we, who have touched “the Word of life” (1 J.n 1:1) do not give it, who will?  How beautiful it is to be Christians who offer consolation, who bear the burdens of others and who offer encouragement: messengers of life in a time of death!  In every area of the human family to which we all belong and which is part of us – for we are all brothers and sisters – may we bring the song of life!… Today, as pilgrims in search of hope, we cling to you, Risen Jesus.  We turn our backs on death and open our hearts to you, for you are Life itself.” (Easter Vigil homily, April 11, 2020)

With these words of our Holy Father, that are so true and powerful, we entrust ourselves to the intercession of Saint Francis asking him that our faith, hope and love may never fail but on the contrary they may increase through our ability to bless each other and everything in our lives.

The Lord bless you and keep you. May He show His face to you and have mercy.
May He turn His countenance to you and give you peace. The Lord bless you!

Concrete Resolution:

  • We can revisit the moments in our story in which we have experienced God as Father through his Providence. Cherishing these memories gives us hope for the present moment and for the future.
  • We can think of a small but concrete way in which we can better live brotherhood and solidarity during this time of pandemic: perhaps making an extra phone call, going grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor, sending letters to relatives we are unable to see in person, etc.

 Sr. Michela

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