Saint Francis and the universal call to holiness

Saint Francis and the universal call to holiness

Fr Sebastian Camilleri OFM

All Saints Day reminds us that we are all called to be saints by being Christians to the core. We do not aim to attain this mystical state with the vain hope of being venerated as such in our churches: this particular motivation would go directly against the grain of holiness whose dominant characteristic is the virtue of humility.

Here, sainthood is understood in the context of endeavouring constantly to overcome sin by practising faithfully the tenets of our Faith, communicating Christ's message of fraternal love to others and trying earnestly to save our souls redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ on the Cross.

This personal salvific commitment is not so easy to carry out. To those inquisitors who queried whether only a few would be saved, Jesus warned them "to strive to enter through the narrow gate" (Luke 13:22-30).

Eternal salvation

Christ's advice is not as negative as it sounds, but rather a realistic affirmation that eternal salvation is a precious treasure for which the Christian ought work hard to possess, as in the Gospel where the interested person would sacrifice and sell all he or she owned to buy it.

The throng of Christian martyrs for the sake of Christ and his teachings has confirmed that human sufferings are as nothing compared with the bliss of heaven.

At the same time, there is the danger that in realising the weakness of our human nature and our failures we may misjudge ourselves as not worthy or capable of attaining saintliness and so give up.

The saints we admire for their heroic acts in upholding sound morality and their staunch faith despite ridicule and adversity were in fact ordinary people like ourselves; they trusted in God completely, persevered in prayer and lived contented and fulfilled lives with the hope of eternal glory.

Today we live in a fast-moving world that revels in material progress and all facets of modern living and leisure, devoid of spiritual values. Some can easily confuse their priorities, become introverted and impersonal, and lose the ability to communicate with others, including relatives and friends, and with God.

Sacred Scripture warns us to be always on guard against temptations. While on earth the saints encountered adverse situations but remained determined to be Christians worthy of their calling, allowing nothing to separate them from Christ - neither "dungeon, fire or sword".

Through their edifying example of joyful love of Christ and their exceptional gift of communication, they succeeded in evangelising and drawing to the Lord both good and lukewarm people.

Reading the lives of the saints we notice how these privileged Christians were able to live in awareness of the presence of God and in constant communion with Him through prayer. This in turn helped them to interact more effectively with their fellow men and to live in peace. This style of human relations based on the perennial Christian principles proved to be a cultural turning point and an inspiring trend in human history.

The month of October commemorated the feast of St Francis of Assisi noted for his ecstatic communion with God in prayer and docile communication with people that fostered peaceful human relations. This even extended to God's non-human creation, including the moon and the sun, which he called "brothers and sisters".

His genuinely Christian approach has made him the most universally popular saint of all time and still attracts millions to Assisi.

St Francis's heart was enlightened with love for all, especially for the Crucified Christ. His communications started in his heart with a desire to express something he felt strongly about. We are familiar with the expression, "Speak because you have something to say, not because you have to say something."

St Francis spoke out because he felt something strongly in his heart and mind. What he had in his mind and heart was a passionate love for Jesus Christ. This is an example we could all emulate in our dealings with others.

St Francis felt deeply every word, gesture and resource he used about Christ. Because of that, his communications had integrity; they were true to his heart and mind. In fact, if we were to go even further - interiorly - into Francis' psyche and style, it should be obvious that he was so consumed in his message that the message became the medium: the word of God Himself.

Total life

His whole rule and life as he wrote to his friars was to live the Gospel as Jesus lived it. Jesus had become his total life: he was eager to talk about him, to witness him, to minister to others in Jesus' name; he looked eagerly for creative ways to get Christians to know and love Jesus as he did.

He kept pushing himself to discover more effective ways to express that great desire in his heart. And through his gift of effective communication, St Francis became a powerful evangeliser of the Gospels. He was by his own admission "The herald of the great King".

This Franciscan style of evangelisation reminds us of the value of communications, including the role of the publications ministry which can help lead souls to eternal salvation. It is therefore much more than a job or a mere technique, for it can encourage more people towards sanctity.

Fr Sebastian Camilleri OFM, LTh, MA, PhD, OAM works at the St Francis of Assisi Centre in the Melbourne Archdiocese.

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