Francis of Assisi: Grasped by the Gospel

Francis of Assisi is a man who needs little introduction. The pageantry of his early life, dramatic conversion, and radical following of Christ in evangelical poverty is well known. The witness of his life captured the imagination of his contemporaries and the Order he founded swept through medieval Europe, becoming a catalyst for renewal both without and outside of the Church.

What made Francis so original and compelling? What did he bring into the world that was utterly new? The deepest things require the fewest words: St. Francis of Assisi brought a new gaze. During a time of decline, it was given to Francis to discover anew the face of God. With his gaze illumined by the by the mystery of God’s utter nearness to us in becoming man, Francis rediscovered all of created reality, especially his fellow man as brother and neighbor.

The awe Francis experienced before the sacred humanity of Christ finds particular expression in his reverence for the Crib, Cross, and Eucharist. In these realities, the nature of love reveals itself – that is, love freely and concretely gives itself away, undertaking the risk inherent in complete self-donation.

Without understanding him as one grasped by love and overtaken by the beautiful Christ, the figure of Francis of Assisi risks becoming eccentric, ideological, or merely historical. Rather, as one who experienced the mystery of the Incarnate Word in an utterly authentic way, he became a “living Gospel,” capable of transmitting the truth of God’s exquisite love for men to his generation and beyond.