“One day when Francis went out to meditate in the fields he was passing by the church of San Damiano which was threatened to collapse because of extreme age. Inspired by the Spirit, he went inside to pray. Kneeling before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with great fervor and consolation as he prayed. While his tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord’s cross, he heard with his bodily ears a voice coming from the cross, telling him three times, ‘Francis, go repair my house, as you see, it is falling into ruin’” (Life of St. Francis, St. Bonaventure).
Jesus’ words to St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)—deacon and stigmatist—resound today. “Rebuild My Church,” says the Lord. Yet, so many members in the Church are suffering and the Body is falling apart. With such division, how can we unite and rebuild the Church?
St. Francis, who founded the Friars Minor (Franciscans), co-founded the Poor Clares, and the Third Order Franciscans, knew that love and adoration of Jesus is in the most Blessed Sacrament were essential. Five of his eight remaining letters on earth proclaim the Presence of Our Eucharistic Lord. In fact, St. Francis started Eucharistic Adoration in Italy. He reflected, “In this world I cannot see the Most High Son of God with my own eyes, except for His Most Holy Body and Blood.” “What wonderful majesty! What stupendous condescension! O sublime humility! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble Himself like this and hide under the form of a little bread, for our salvation.” St. Francis led his brothers in prostrating themselves and in proclaiming before every Church where the Living Presence of Jesus dwelt: “We adore Thee most holy Lord Jesus Christ, here in all Thy Churches, which are in the whole world, because by Thy holy cross, Thou hast redeemed the world.”
My mother and I were blessed to visit Assisi in 2006. There are numerous blessings I recall at St. Francis’ Basilica, such as praying in the crypt near his remains and beholding frescoes of Giotto in the main body of the shrine. One unforgettable memory is seeing the doves nestled in the corner of an entrance way of the shrine. It was a reminder that, if we want true peace and unity, we only need to take sanctuary in God’s dwelling and rest near Jesus’ Eucharistic Heart.
Clearly, St. Francis realized that this rebuilding was not only physical, but spiritual. God wants to be with His people, to dwell in their midst, surrounded by their love. The answer and solution to the upheaval in our Church and world is Jesus in the Eucharist—the Sacrament of Unity—the source, summit, and center of our lives as Christians. In the words of the seraphic father St. Francis:
“And just as He appeared before the holy Apostles in true flesh, so now He has us see Him in the Sacred Bread. Looking at Him with the eyes of their flesh, they saw only His Flesh, but regarding Him with the eyes of the spirit, they believed that He was God. In like manner, as we see bread and wine with our bodily eyes, let us see and believe firmly that it is His Most Holy Body and Blood, True and Living. For in this way our Lord is ever present among those who believe in him, according to what He said: ‘Behold, I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world’” (Mt. 28:20).
Jesus in the Holy Eucharist was the heart of St. Francis’ life. He received the strength to tirelessly serve the poor by spending several hours daily in Eucharistic Adoration. “When one serves the poor, he serves Christ Himself,” said St. Francis, who is the patron of Catholic Action and co-patron saint of Italy. May he help us incite a spiritual revolution by proclaiming that Jesus is with us in our Churches and, fueled by His Real Presence, minister to wounded souls in need.
St. Francis helped restore the Church abundantly. He is credited for building the first Christmas Crib. He and his brothers invited all of the children and the families in their village to a special Mass. The friars brought animals and led the faithful close to the crib. The children dressed up like Our Lady, St. Joseph, the shepherds, wise men, and angels. During Mass, after the consecration, the priest raised the Sacred Host and the Baby Jesus suddenly appeared! All of the people saw that the Holy Eucharist is really and truly Jesus. They gathered close to the Newborn King to offer Him their love and adoration, just like the angels and shepherds did on that first Christmas night in Bethlehem.
The Lord has spoken to us through the Sacred Scriptures, through the Church, St. Francis and so many others. In the book of Revelation we read: “Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent.” (Rev. 3:2-3) It is time to awake. It is time to repent. It is time to rebuild. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.” (Rev. 2:17) If we rebuild Christ’s Church, our names will be written in the Book of Life, and we will share not only in the gift of His Body and Blood on earth, but in the promise of the Hidden Manna in heaven. Rebuild His Church!
Reflections of St. Francis of Assisi—Feast, October 4
“And so now with all those who see the Blessed Sacrament, sanctified by our Lord’s words on the altar, through the hands of the priest, in the form of bread and wine: if they do not see and believe, as the spirit and the Divine nature demand that it is truly the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, they stand condemned. For it is the Most High who bears witness to it. He says, ‘This is My Body, and the Blood of the New Testament’ (Mk. 14:22-24) and, ‘He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood, has life everlasting'” (Jn. 6:55).
“Thus it is the spirit of the Lord, which dwells in those who believe in Him, that truly receives the most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord. All the rest, who have nothing of that spirit and presume to receive Him, eat and drink judgment to themselves (1 Cor. 11:29). So, you children of men, how long is your sense going to stay dull? (Ps 4:3) Why do you not see in the truth and believe in the Son of God? (Jn. 9, 35) See, day after day He humbles Himself, as when He came down from His royal throne. (Wis. 18, 15) into the Virgin’s womb. Day by day He comes to us personally in this lowly form. Daily He comes down from the bosom of His Father on the altar into the hands of the priest.”
“I believe that You, O Jesus, are in the most holy Sacrament. I love You and desire You. Come into my heart. I embrace You. Oh, never leave me. May the burning and most sweet power of Your love, O Lord Jesus Christ, I beseech You, absorb my mind that I may die through love of Your love, Who were graciously pleased to die through love of my love.”