This lovely reflection of a contributor to the U.S. ‘National Catholic Reporter’ – on the need to live between the iconic authority of the Church and the reality of life as it is lived in this day and age – re-ignites my own clear understanding of the place of Saint Francis of Assisi in the Church and the World of his own day, in 13th century Italy. The influence of Francis, however, has a legitimate and much needed call upon today’s Church and society at large. It is, therefore, very important to try to understand why the present Pontiff – the Head of the Roman Catholic Church – himself a Jesuit, should elect to serve under the patronage and titular influence of of Saint Francis of Assisi, rather than that of Saint Francis Loyola, the well known Jesuit Saint.
St. Francis’ preoccupation with the simplicity of life and its consequent need to acknowledge humanity’s place in the care of, and reverence for, the many-splendoured acts of God in Creation, led him to forake the ‘Easy Life’ of a merchant prince for a vocation of pointing to the sanctity of our common human nature and our part in fostering the common good – not only of ourselves but of everyone we meet on our journey through life.
My own experience of the Franciscan life in the Society of Saint Francis, as an Aspirant and Novice in the Anglican Church of Australia and New Zealand; led, eventually, to my renewed aspiration to a vocation as a priest outside of that Community. I had felt that, by actually living in Community, I was being prepared for a wider calling to bring the Franciscan ethos into a wider context in the Church and the world outside of Community.
In my first parish, I helped to raise up a band of Franciscan Companions (supporters of SSF and with a common cause) whose main preoccupation was to support the Daily Mass in our local parish church – from which we went into the local community with various projects designed to bring people to a better understanding of God in Creation. In that specific context – although I was still a celibate priesit – I was led into a life-long partnership in marriage to Diana, at that time a widow with 2 young children, so that my priestly title of ‘Father’ became a secular reality with my ‘adoption’ of two lively young children.
I still consider myself – at the age of 90 – to be a Franciscan in spirit, believing that St. Francis has accompanied me on my life’s journey – especially in my continuing vocation as a priest in God’s Church – with a yearning for human thriving, a reverence fo all creation, and justice for ALL people. Deo Gratias!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand