St. Francis of Assisi is one of the Church’s best-loved and most-admired saints. This shouldn’t surprise us, however, because there’s so much to admire Francis for!
For instance, there’s Francis’ renunciation of materialism and consumerism by embracing that which he called "Lady Poverty." Instead of seeking security in worldly goods, Francis trusted that God would provide for all his needs. And God always did!
And then there’s Francis’ love for all God’s creation- a love reflected in the wonderful story of Francis’ having preached to the birds, a love expressed through Francis’ songs such as the "Canticle of the Sun" and "All Creatures of Our God and King," and a love honored by Francis’ having been designated the patron saint of all who care for the environment.
Francis was also a leader in Church renewal and reform. The Lord told him in a vision to go and repair his Church, and Francis did! Beginning with his reconstruction of San Damiano church near his boyhood home, continuing with his prophetic ministry of peace amongst the Holy Land crusaders, and especially through his establishment of the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans, the medieval Church was greatly blessed by the untiring efforts of St. Francis.
Francis was an evangelist too. His zeal for spreading the gospel led him far from home to the land of Mohammad and the Koran, and his passion for teaching others about Jesus was demonstrated in his famous creation of a living manger scene one Christmas night outside the town of Gubbio, a tradition we continue today whenever we place a crèche or manger scene in our homes.
Perhaps most significant, however, is that Francis was a Christian whose life was literally brimming with joy. Francis certainly found joy in deep friendships, such as those with St. Clare or St. Bonaventure. But Francis supremely discovered joy- just as we are called to do- in being an obedient servant of Jesus Christ. As St. Francis himself once prayed:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, JOY!