The rule of St. Francis of Assisi that I follow is a way for me to build the Church in the modern world. St. Francis through his writings and life does teach and show us our role to rebuild the Church of today. But he demands that we need to abandon every luxury and serve the Lord God and humankind. We can rebuild the Church only through the Experience of the incarnate Lord Jesus who became man for our sake and made our concerns His concerns.
The Franciscans and the rest who have ever read an account of the life of St. Francis of Assisi, these words, “Francis, repair my house’ remind us of Francis’ understanding of the mission given to him by the Lord– spoken from the crucifix in the small “falling into ruin” chapel of San Damiano. He understood these words in a very literal way and started rebuilding and repairing small and big churches in and around Assisi. He invited many to participate in this mission that the Lord gave him, thus allowing all to share in the priesthood and mission of Jesus to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. Francis was asked to rebuild the spiritual Catholic Church, by reaching out to those who feel lost, who have no name and face because of poverty, alienated, because they do not belong to our class. Francis was asked to repair the Church which had forgotten the message of the crib that He became poor to identify himself with poor and lowly. Francis was invited to rebuild the Church where the Spirit of Incarnation and Paschal mystery would be lived and practised. But soon, the voice came again, “Francis, rebuild my Church.”
And Francis realized that Jesus wasn’t asking him to rebuild San Damiano Church, Jesus was asking him to rebuild the Catholic Church. The Church in Francis’ time had fallen into moral and spiritual decay. Money and position had become more important than helping the people find their way to God. Francis started to rebuild the Church and he got the support of everyone rich and poor alike, the renewal of the Church began with the presence of the Lord in Francis.
The baby Jesus in the manger is calling each one of us “Francis, rebuild my Church.” The babe of Bethlehem is asking us to rebuild the Church with the commandment of Love. He is asking us to wake up from our slumber and get deeper into a relationship with God so that we can meet God’s primary commandment: “Love”. Christmas is a time for each one of us to evaluate our role in rebuilding the Church of today. To really and truly follow Jesus, to carry out the command of Jesus and assist Francis in ‘rebuilding’ the Church, let us keep in mind that we need simplify the Love with which we can work wonders.
For Francis the call to rebuild the Church was to live the spirit of Incarnation of God in the Ordinariness of life and be Jesus to those who had been away from the grace, compassion and mercy of God. St. Francis of Assisi invented the most generally recognized custom of the Christmas crib. Francis set up hillside nativity scenes to teach local peasants about the nativity in the 12th century. For him, it was not just a display but the intention was that it would speak and talk about how God loves us and how he wants to reclaim us.
Christmas is inviting us to create a crib in our hearts and to find ways of creating space for Jesus in our own lives. Christmas is challenging us, to rebuild our own lives so that we could go round to rebuild those shambled and broken lives in and around Mumbai city. By living the Gospel way of life, he showed how much he loved Jesus and His mission. The call and cause to rebuild the Church was accepted out of deep love that he had for the redeemer and saviour. The life of Francis has been a close association with incarnation and Christ’s crucifixion. Francis goes out to rebuild the Church because he accepted that God loved the world and became a weak, helpless child to save us. Once he realises that it is the spiritual Church that he had to rebuild he swung into action by just surrendering himself.
Before we go out to rebuild the Church in our locality, let us ask some solid questions about our relationships with others, the broken relationships that we still carry and the alienation that we practise consciously and unconsciously. St. Francis through his spirituality is encouraging us to approach Christmas with an everyday, conscious awareness of relationships with people around us.
The way we live our Christian life, is the way we birth Christ and in a sense that carrying him within us, through love, that’s really a Christmas. Rebuilding church today, means detaching ourselves to rebuild the church and society that is in bad shape. Christmas will be meaningful celebration, if we could entertain the thought of doing something, because we are of the incarnation.
God sent his Son into the world to save and liberate it from darkness and from the power of the Satan. God could not see the broken and darkened world; he had to repair, so he decided to send His only Son for the redemption of the world. As we celebrate the feast of Christmas, God is asking us to rebuild and to bring his Church back to its original grace. But he never does it all by himself. He always involves his people, giving us the dignity of being co-redeemers, co-reformers with him.
After the call from the Lord, St. Francis thought the Lord was asking him to repair the dilapidated Church of St. Damiano so he went to his father’s clothing store, took some valuable fabrics and sold them along with a horse in order to start repairing the Church. Over the course of a couple of years, he finished the job. But little did St. Francis know, that he had misinterpreted the Lord and that the Lord had another rebuilding project in mind.
That project started with Francis himself, who responded to God’s grace to follow the Lord Jesus completely, uniting himself to the Lord by means of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Soon, many others joined Francis in this pursuit. Eventually, they went to Rome to seek the approval of their statutes. The night before they were going to have an audience with Pope Innocent III, the pontiff had a dream and saw a man in a simple, poor man’s woollen habit holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s Cathedral, next to papal residence at the time. The next day during his audience, Innocent III saw the very friar from his dream come on in with his closest followers. Pope Innocent III, properly interpreted the dream he had received: St. Francis of Assisi was being called to rebuild the Church as a whole, symbolized by the Cathedral of St. John Lateran. He was being called to rebuild the entire household of God. How did St. Francis rebuild the Church? He helped bring the Church back to her foundations so that the Church could be rebuilt stone by stone on the foundation of Christ.
The call and appeal of the Lord is now being addressed to all good will men and women in India, “Francis, rebuild my house!” The example that our Founder and Father has left behind for the entire Church is to first come back to the Babe of Bethlehem. Let us follow and imitate and become like Jesus who was chaste, obedient unto death of a Cross, who was so poor that he had nothing of His own. The rebuilding of the Church was possible for St. Francis because he followed the Lord fully and completely, lived a life of prayer and holiness and active and strong faith in the workings of the Holy Spirit
We are living in troubled and uncertain times; suicide bombing has become the order of the day. The values and principles are watered down, which is affecting individuals as well as communitarian life. The role models are not easy to find and not even proposed to our children, as a result false role models are mushrooming in every nook and corner. We need to focus more on holiness, individuals as well as communitarian. Christmas is calling us to be saints, how urgently our society here needs to see this beautiful, radiant face of the Church again. We all can make a difference, if we live the message of Christmas and be a part of the solution, which is not so difficult to find, if one is willing to be like St. Francis of Assisi.
The promise of Jesus to be with us until the end of time is still valid and inviting. He is waiting not in the manger, but in our neighbourhood and amidst the fragmented society of ours, telling us not be afraid, but be a partner to rebuild the Church. He wants to bring about a renewal of the Church and a new rebirth of holiness, a new man and woman like St, Francis to play the role of renovators and rebuilders.
Are we ready?