February 17.  Ash Wednesday. Jack, a catechist, offered the family groups an explanation for the three Catholic practices of Lent which are each a form of daily sacrifice:  prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Prayer, personal or communal, makes room for God in our lives. Fasting can mean denying ourselves, possibly something we particularly like, to share with others in need or just as self-denial. Almsgiving is sharing with others some of our gifts, time, talents, money or other possessions.  St Francis of Assisi, made this three-fold Lenten practice his daily mission and way of life.”     

Who was St Francis: Francis Bernardone born into a wealthy merchant family as a young adult was a playboy, became a soldier and in a war between Assisi and a neighbouring town, was wounded, captured and imprisoned for a year. He began to feel disillusioned with the materialistic, secular way of life and felt drawn towards a life of poverty. Prayer and reflection led him to publicly reject his family. Stripping off his smart clothes he gave them back to his father and put on the simple peasant’s robe tied up with a rope which after 800 years is still a feature of Franciscan brothers and priests.   

While out walking, in a small derelict church he heard a voice from the crucifix, “Francis go and rebuild my church, as you can see it is falling into ruin.” He started rebuilding but came to see that his call was not for the building of stone but for the people and Church leaders. He chose a new way of life of prayer, poverty and humility. Soon friends and other men  converted to his way. Later Clare, a daughter of a noble family in Assisi, who was captivated by his vision, asked to join.

Francis was no highly educated theologian and never became a priest.  He intensely experienced God‘s love in the Incarnate and Crucified Jesus. While travelling, preaching and teaching his growing community of friars and Clare’s community of sisters, Francis lived a life of ongoing conversion, humbly and in peace with every person and all creatures. He came to see everything as his family calling the elements of creation by name as Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother Earth, also Brother Wolf, Sister Dove.

A life-changing event for him was a journey to Damietta in Egypt to meet a Muslim sultan, a leader in the war between the Christian Crusaders and the Muslims. Another life-changing event was receiving the stigmata – the wounds of Jesus on his body in the last years of his life. From the time of his conversion until his death at the young age of 45 his life was an expression of his love and unique sense of joy, although physically he suffered ill health and became almost blind. “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning.  Joel 2:12-18. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. From the blessing with ashes.  Pope Francis: Our sister, Mother Earth cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.  We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and receive life and refreshment from her waters.  LS2 St Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically.   He loved and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving and his open-heartedness. LS11.   Reflect, share, act, pray. As family members share on what you particularly admire in St Francis. What is God calling you to do at this moment?