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Father Muench Says...

The compelling spirit of St. Francis

Oct. 12, 2016

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I am writing this on October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi so my attention today is on St. Francis.  My reading and study of his life and spirit has had a profound effect on my life. 

St. Francis is a special saint; his love of the cross of Jesus has encouraged me to find joy and peace each time I look up at the cross. He lived his life in union with the crucified Jesus.  This led him to accept poverty and to always try to help the poor and needy.  He worked to bring peace to his own life and to his world.  And his spirit has encouraged many to work for peace. I pray that I may walk with St. Francis in bringing his call to peace in every way I can as a priest.

The attention of the Catholic Church to St. Francis and his message has increased greatly since the election of Pope Francis who chose “Francis” as his Papal name. 

Pope Francis made it clear that he was making St. Francis his model and guide.  Pope Francis continues to be a great advocate for the poor and needy.  This is the kind of challenge that Pope Francis gives to all of us Catholics.

I have grown in my devotion of St. Francis because of my good fortune of visiting Assisi several times.  On one trip, I joined several parishioners of St. Mary’s, Ticonderoga, on a tour of Italy during which we spent two days in Assisi.   During that trip, I had the exceptional opportunity of celebrating Mass at the sanctuary of the Porziuncola. This is the small church over which the large Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels was built, enclosing this small church and protecting it.  I have read that this small church was beloved by St. Francis.  I understand that it is an important Franciscan site.  St. Francis died near there in 1226.  Personally, that Mass was one of the most wonderful spiritual experiences in my life.  It touched me deeply.

I visited Assisi another time when several priests of the Diocese of Ogdensburg traveled to Rome to attend the deacon ordination of Father Bryan Stitt.  One of the days there we took a day trip to Assisi.  While there we concelebrated Mass – attended by Father Stitt’s family and friends.  The Mass was offered in the upper Basilica of St. Francis.  The walls of that upper Church are filled with beautiful frescoes of scenes from the life of St. Francis.  I remember being distracted during that Mass as I looked around at these frescoes.

This Basilica of St. Francis is a very beautiful, imposing Church.  It is part of the Franciscan Friary, where many Franciscan priests and brothers reside.  There is also a college as part of the Friary.  In the lowest level of the Basilica there is the tomb of St. Francis.  As you can image this is a very special and holy place. The Spirit of St. Francis fills this space.  It is a very deep experience to pray there with your forehead against this resting place of St. Francis.

Recently, just a few years ago, I decided that Assisi would be a great place for a retreat.  So, I investigated and made plans. I stayed at the St. Anthony’s Guest House, a very nice bed and breakfast operated by the Graymoor Sisters. I was able to offer Mass each day in the house chapel with the Sisters and Guests.  Each day I walked and prayed, visiting all the Churches and sites of Assisi, absorbing the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare.  Let me guarantee you that spirit was everywhere I went.  Each day offered a new and wonderful experience.  Each evening I attended the singing of vespers by the cloistered Sisters at the Basilica of St. Clare. 

I was also fortunate to meet two priests from Boston who were also guests there and I joined them for supper each evening.  That proved to be a great addition to my time of retreat.  Most evenings I went out for more walking. It was so quiet since most of the tourists, who flooded Assisi during the day, were now gone on their way.  I had the whole place to myself.  That proved to be so peaceful and spiritually calming.  The whole place was mine – to walk with St. Francis.

So, many other things could be talked about St. Francis – his concerns and causes, many so intriguing, like hid love for creation and the creatures of this world.  He truly is a patron saint for those concerned with all creation and with ecology.  Also his love for peace – his effort to bring peace to his world.  It is truly phenomenal of how his spirit grew into such a meaningful and impressive of Franciscans throughout our world – thousands and thousands of priests, brothers and religious Sisters. 

I have been influenced a great deal by Franciscan spirituality and by good Franciscan friends.  So, St. Francis continues to touch me and our Church.

St. Francis, pray for us.

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