St. Francis of Assisi died on the evening of October 3, 1226; that is, 790 years ago. Nonetheless, he remains very much alive in the Church and the world today.
This little man from a small town in the Umbrian region of Italy achieved what Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Mark Anthony, Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Bonaparte, and George Washington never achieved. On the day of his death, he left behind a family of men and women, today known as Franciscans. On that memorable evening of October 3rd 1226, there were more than 5,000 friars, 200 cloistered nuns, and more than 1,000 secular men and women who formed the family of St. Francis or the Franciscan Family.
Today, we are about one million around the world. No one really knows how many groups of Franciscans there are in the world. The family grew so much that it was impossible to keep it under one superior general and to govern everyone with the same expectations. Diversity in cultures, languages, political conditions and even geography made it necessary to breakdown into smaller communities that could be more easily governed and who were more cohesive.
This does not mean that the mind and rule of St. Francis were abandoned in order to accommodate to time and place. It means that the mind, rule and heart of Francis emulated the mind, commandments and heart of Jesus, making room for men and women from every part of the world. So, his little family of 11 Italian brothers from Umbria grew into an international family that has survived 800 years of changes,political persecutions, Church politics, poverty, wars, disease, misunderstanding, rejection, martyrdom, even heresy.
This should make us think about the Church. Christ promised Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against him. He promised to be with us until the end of time, through thick and thin. Yet, many catastrophic minds believe that the Church is falling apart, the great tribulation is coming and the world is going to hell in a hand basket.
In every age God sends us prophets and prophecies foreshadowing his redemptive work for mankind. The Franciscan family has survived and prospered, despite many setbacks. By the standards of some of these extremists’ minds, Franciscans should have been wiped out during the Protestant Reformation, maybe the Reign of Terror, Nazism, Communism, or the Americanist Heresy. The fact is that the Franciscan family is alive and growing.
Like every family, it grows old and tired in some places and dies out, only to sprout with vigorous new shoots in other cities and countries. The gates of hell have never prevailed against the Franciscan family.
Maybe, October 4th, as we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Holy Father Saint Francis, we would do well to meditate on prophecy. St. Francis and his descendants are not just another group in the Church. We are a prophetic statement for believers and unbelievers alike. We foreshadow the triumph of Christ the King over all the odds and a new springtime for the Church.
The Franciscans of Life wish all of our friends, a Blessed Feast of St. Francis.