Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (5:22-23) says,
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
In Saint Francis of Assisi, these fruits were made manifest through his way of life after his conversion, achievable only after demonstrating total reliance upon God’s Will. Only then could God work through him.
Anyone who has read even the shortest story of the life of Francis can attest to the fact that before his conversion he was anything but patient, faithful, or controlled. He was a person who enjoyed the comforts of life and who made every effort to be part of Assisi’s social scene. After all, he was a socialite who played the role well with his peers.
But the Lord works in mysterious ways and put Francis in a time and place that forever changed the way he looked at life. In his Testament, Francis begins like this:
The Lord gave to me, Brother Francis, thus to begin to do penance; for when I was in sin it seemed to me very bitter to see lepers, and the Lord Himself led me amongst them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, that which had seemed to me bitter was changed for me into sweetness of body and soul.
Recognizing the divine intervention that brought about this new outlook on life, Francis demonstrated a submission to God that enabled the fruits of the Spirit to take shape in him.
Francis let God work through him. He truly offered his body and soul to God so that he could be an instrument of peace, patience, kindness, and fully embody the Spirit for the greater glory of God. It was an intentional act on the part of Francis. He was not forced. I am confident that, if he had wanted to, Francis could have ignored the leper and continued on his journey. But he didn’t and his life, and the life of the Church, was forever changed.
I believe the same potential for greatness is true for each of us. We are each invited to accept God’s invitation to be instruments of His presence here on earth and make manifest the gifts of the Spirit. Or not. The choice is ours. Francis did not set out to create the wide-reaching impact that would result in the founding of a global religious order, bring a pope to dream about his role in reforming the church, and author the last of four religious rules upon which all future religious communities would base their way of life.
Francis did not set out to do these things, but they all ended up as the result of his “yes” to God’s call. He could not, and most likely would not, have predicted the wide-reaching, canonical, and historical impact his conversion would have. The Lord works in mysterious ways. But the only way the Lord can work through each of us is if we get out of our own way of being God’s instruments here on earth.
Francis expected this same submission from his early followers as well, reminding them of the seriousness of answering God’s call and that it was not meant to be taken lightly. In his Letter to the General Chapter, Francis writes:
Listen, then, sons of God and my friars, and give ear to my words. Give hearing with all your hearts and obey the voice of the Son of God. Keep his commandments wholeheartedly and practice his counsels with all your minds. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is Good; extol Him in your works. This is the very reason He has sent you all over the world, so that by word and deed you might bear witness to His message and convince everyone that there is no other almighty God besides Him. Be well disciplined then and patient under holy obedience, keeping your promises to Him generously and unflinchingly. God deals with you as with sons.
He wanted to make sure that his brothers were as serious about the life of conversion and witness as he was and how intentional and personal answering God’s call is, which is why submission is so important. The fruits of the Spirit cannot flow from us if we’re focused on our own needs and wants.
The Holy Spirit makes faith useful, and helps create a tangible experience of the divine in our lives and, for those in ministry, the lives of those to whom we minister. This is the unseen power of Jesus made visible. I remember my first ministerial experience while I was in my first year of seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was so focused on ‘doing’ ministry the right way that I did not yield to the working of the Spirit in me and I ended up feeling disconnected from the patients I was visiting at the hospital. It wasn’t until I reflected over time with my spiritual director about the uneasiness of my ministry that I realized that I needed to get out of my own way and let the Spirit work not only in me but through me.
As a minister and witness to God’s presence in the lives of those resting in the hospital beds, it was my responsibility to make God’s tender mercy and unconditional love known and felt. But there are some potential pitfalls that Francis was aware of and, in Admonition 17 he writes:
Blessed is that servant who is not more puffed up because of the good the Lord says and works through him than because of that which He says and works through others. A man sins who wishes to receive more from his neighbor than he is himself willing to give to the Lord God.
When we allow the Spirit to work through us we remind ourselves, as Francis reminds his followers, that it’s always about the other, not about the self. May we rely totally upon God’s Will so that the work of the Spirit may flow through us and create an impact as wide-reaching as Francis.
Let us pray:
Most High, Glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of our minds.
Give us a right faith, a firm hope and a perfect charity,
so that we may always and in all things act according to Your Holy Will. Amen.
Rev. Jason Lody, FCM
St. Anthony of Padua ANCC (Centreville, VA)
Fr. Jason is Minister General of the Franciscan Community of Mercy