Of Martyrs and Mission: An (unofficial) Franciscan Feast
So, with all due respect to Saints Comas and Damian, the early Christian martyrs whose feast day we commemorate today, I couldn’t help but see something of a moment to pause and reflect on the Franciscan tradition this morning. There are two reasons that this is an important day, at least liturgically, for the Franciscan family. First, it was at the small chapel dedicated to the memory of St. Damian outside of Assisi where Francis first received his explicit “call” from the Lord to transform his life and follow the Gospel in a particular way. Second, the readings for today, especially the Gospel, relate directly to the mission of the Franciscan Orders and provide for all Christians a lens through which to view Jesus’s “missionary discourse.”
Many people familiar with the Franciscan tradition will recall the San Damiano (St. Damian) Cross. It was while praying in front of this cross that Francis is reported to have heard Jesus say to him: “Francis, rebuild my church.” The young Francis interpreted this command from Christ to be the task of literally rebuilding the chapel of St. Damian, which has fallen into ruin. But over time he came to realize that this was a call to be, like those sent by the Lord in today’s Gospel, one who proclaims the Kingdom of God in word and deed.
Today’s First Reading and Gospel happen to rather coincidentally fall on this memorial, but they are the readings for this regular Wednesday in Ordinary Time. The first reading, from Proverbs of the Wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, reflects our need to be aware of our dependence on God. The call is that we not take what we have received in this life for granted. It is a prayer for the Lord to give us just what we need: no more, no less! The reason being that with more than we need, we become self-satisfied and forget that we are always already dependent on God from whom we receive life and everything else. If we have less, or if anyone has less, they might be forced into stealing or something else (think Les Miserables and bread) in order to survive.
The Gospel is Luke’s account of the “Missionary Discourse,” where Jesus sends the disciples out into the world to proclaim the Kingdom of God and heal the sick. His instructions form the foundation of Francis’s vision for the life of the Lesser Brothers (Friars Minor):
“Take nothing for the journey,
neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money,
and let no one take a second tunic.
Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there.
And as for those who do not welcome you,
when you leave that town,
shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.” (Luke 9:1-6)
The early legends have it that Francis heard this Gospel proclaimed at Mass and immediately realized that “This is what I want, this is what I desire!” He then spent the rest of his life trying to follow Christ in accord with his instructions found here.
What this says to us today is that we, as Christian women and men, are not to succumb to the popular cultural and political narrative that says we are each “self-made” women and men, that we “did ourselves,” and that “each for his or her own.” We are always to recall that we are a community of interdependent people who, as the Body of Christ, support and care for one another. Everything we have received is ultimately from God (the wisdom of Proverbs) and we should live in the world in such a way as to gratefully recall our mutual dependence on one another (the Gospel discourse).