The Mathematics of Becoming Francis of Assisi
Today is the universal, world-wide celebration of St. Francis of Assisi. It’s pretty amazing to think that one person, a young man from a small medieval town in central Italy in the 1200s could make such an impact on the Church and, indeed, the whole world. What was it about Francis that made him what he was – a Saint, a peacemaker, a lover of God and creation?
I believe it had to do with his understanding of everyday math. Let me explain. I’m not talking about 2 + 2 = 4 or even your run-of-the-mill algebra or geometry. I’m talking proportions. Francis was a man who, over time, became someone who was very aware of what the proportions of “Francis” and “God” should really look like. It seems safe to say that most people, when they stop to evaluate their lives in relationship to others, end up giving themselves a high percentage of the care, concern, interest and energy. It is, ultimately all about providing for ourselves first, right? Doesn’t God help those who help themselves, or something?
Francis certainly didn’t think so.
Early in his life he was preoccupied with the little things in his own world, not terribly concerned with the needs of others or what God might desire for him. He was driven, like so many of us are, by his own needs and wants. As his life changed and he became increasingly more aware of God’s presence in the world around him, Francis’s mathematics began to shift. Where once his own self-interest outweighed that of his concern or consideration for God and others, he realized that freedom, happiness and right-relationship demanded that his outlook on life needed some adjustment.
While Francis accomplished many great things in his life, not the least of which was organizing a band of men and women who were moved by the sincerity and authenticity of his own experience of God, Francis was – from a purely objective standard – not all that remarkable. He was a medieval nobody. That’s the point.
His lowered self-importance, his subordination of his own desires for those of God and the needs of others is what made this ‘nobody’ somebody important. Francis came to embody the very example of Christ – humbling himself unto death. Isn’t it curious that those most unassuming, most willing to serve the needs of others, most open to following the path of Christ are the ones that change the world for the better? The Francis of Assisis and Mother Teresas of this world get the proportion right, the percentage of God in their lives outnumbers the percentage of their own self-interest, pride and selfishness.
On this day dedicated to remembering the life and legacy of the poor little man (poverello) from Assisi, may we strive more and more to get the math right in our spiritual lives. May we, following in the footsteps of Francis, become lesser brothers and sisters to all.
Happy Feast Day!