Friday, October 4, 2013

Feast of St. Francis: Repentance—Forsaking Self for the Service of Others

Top of Mt. Laverna, Italy

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. . . . So then, you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 6:16-20, NASB)

Today is the feast of St. Francis. A popular saint, Francis is so accessible—so real—that people in the thirteen century as well as today can identify with him. He is also a phenomenal example of genuine repentance—turning from worldly ways to a life committed 100% to the love of God.

Born to a wealthy merchant family in the Italian city of Assisi, Francis grew up enjoying a life of comfort and pleasure. He loved stylish clothes and used to wear the newest silk fashions that his father brought back from Paris. Throwing parties for his friends, Francis exemplified the life of revelry.

That all changed, however, through a number of trials that hit him as he entered his twenties. Through war, imprisonment and sickness, God got his attention, leading Francis to repent from his self-focused ways in order to commit his life completely to the Lord.

From Silks to Simplicity
When Francis turned to God, it was genuine. He forwent stylish clothes, silks and the sumptuous life in order to follow a life of simplicity. He gave up partying and wasteful living. As Matthew 3:8 commands, Francis produced “fruit in keeping with [his] repentance.” Wearing a coarse, brown robe tied with a simple rope for a belt, Francis’ garb is still recognized today.

From Self to Service
St. Francis’ repentance ran much deeper than his choice of clothes. Money that had previously been spent on his own pleasure and vanity was now employed to help those in need. Feeding the poor, clothing the outcasts and comforting the sick—especially those dying of leprosy—St. Francis poured his life out for others.

From the Soft Life to Suffering
Ultimately St. Francis moved from the soft life of comfort to a very hard life. Over the next twenty years he periodically spent weeks of solitude and prayer—not spent in a comfortable retreat center (which is where I tend to go)—but rather he and the men around him went “wilderness camping,” as it were, in very rugged terrain. Both at Celia in the mountain ravine outside of Assisi and the rocky rough country high on Mount Laverna (photo above), St. Francis met God in the wilderness, as Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus did centuries ago.

Likewise, working day and night to tend the lepers and preach the gospel across Italy and beyond, St. Francis poured his life out as an offering for the sake of others (Philippians 2:17). Having spent himself, he died young at the age of 44 or 45 on the evening of October 3, 1226.

Model for Us
St. Francis is a wonderful model of radical repentance. Reaching down to the root level of his life—and use of money—St. Francis’ turn from worldly ways was demonstrated by his passionate love for the Lord and by his self-less service of his neighbor.

Today is a marvelous opportunity to celebrate his life, thank God for the renewal he brought to the church, and learn from his visible example of turning from the obsession with material comforts and possessions to the genuine pursuit of God.

© 2013 Glenn E. Myers

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