Dear Francis of Assisi,
Greetings, my patron saint! I believe this letter is long overdue. We’ve already had a long and interesting correspondence across the span of 800 years (and my comparatively shorter 25 years). You’ve definitely had a very strong influence in shaping my faith when I was younger, and your example continues to inspire me in various ways.
I think my first encounter with you was as a teenager reading Carlo Carretto’s fantastic book I, Francis. In this book, Carretto addressed the reader with your voice, giving an introduction to your life and thought. What I really took away from reading that book was your joy and appreciation for God’s other creations. At the time, I was struggling a lot with the question of how to make people see the beauty of the faith when it seemed as if no one was interested or had other things preoccupying their time. Thus, when I read your story, and learned about how you were so willing to be a fool for Christ in order to get people to pay attention and hopefully open their eyes to consider higher things. So when it was time to pick a confirmation name, for me the obvious choice was, of course, Francis.
However, I confess that I find your life, inspiring as it is, a little difficult to distill lessons from. Books upon books have been written upon the subject. I think part of the reason, of course, is that I personally do not have the same single-minded devotion to the Lord that you had. Not yet, at least. But I think another part of the reason is that it’s hard to pin down the specific charisms you used to serve the world – there were so many! Was it your famous love for animal life? Your embracing of ‘Lady Poverty’ as part of your call to holiness? Perhaps it is simply your infectious joy that led you to dance and sing the praises of God.
If I had to hazard a guess, I think I would say that more than all of these, you showed the world what it’s like to be a saint. Or at least, what embarking on that journey of sainthood looks like. Just like we do, you lived in a time of great turmoil (perhaps every era is, in its own way). Political unrest, civil strife, corruption, greed – all these things were not foreign to you, just as they aren’t to us. And it’s easy to deaden oneself to it all, live for the moment, and resign ourselves to not being able to make a difference.
But that was not the path you chose, was it? You decided to respond to God’s call to fulfill the purpose He called you to. And that call led you to a life that touched the lives of everyone – Pope and pauper, lord and leper, soldier and Sultan. Reading your life, it seemed that no one who met you came away unchanged. And although I know that your own spiritual journey had its own valleys and pitfalls, the joy that radiated from you showed the world that true joy and contentment really came from doing God’s work.
I know that everyone’s call to holiness is different. God created us all individually, and gives each of us unique gifts. But I think whatever form holiness takes, it bears something of the… ‘feel’ of your life. A saint channels the life of Jesus Christ, bringing light to the world in gentleness and truth, as He did. Please continue to pray for us, to discover our own calls to holiness, and to pursue this call with courage as you did.
Yours in Christ,
© 2019 Christ Centered Conversations/Garrett Christopher Ng