Feeling a little tired and a little hungry. But I'm going to fast today until the evening, as I usually do on Fridays outside the seasons of Christmas and Easter. So I'm trying to conserve my energy and focus it for the work ahead. I'm giving a presentation on two episodes in the life of Francis this morning, and facilitating the leadership program this afternoon at Neighbors Together.
When you are trying to make a change, it is hard to accept the possibility that the things you are doing are not really so different after all. Francis comes to this realization while setting off from his hometown of Assisi for the city of Apulia seeking a commission in the papal army. Although he barely survived his last experience of combat, nearly dying of malaria while imprisoned for a year in Perugia, Francis still believed he was destined for glory through war. The difference? Whereas formerly he fought for the honor of Assisi, now he would fight for the glory of God. A vision of his house filled with soldiers' arms and a promise of many knights under his service sped Francis with joy to Apulia, laden with armor, arms, and expensive clothing, riding a steed and accompanied by a squire.
Then something happened during a stopover in Spoleto. A flashback? A relapse of malaria? In a delirium, Francis hears a voice question him. Who is greater, the master or the servant? The master, of course. Then why are you abandoning the master for the servant? Francis recalls the first vision he had and reconsiders its meaning. He is devastated. Changed in his mind, he turns back.
Francis retreats to Assisi, knowing full well the humiliation awaiting him. He doesn't care. He retires from worldly affairs, abandoning all concern for his father's business in the cloth trade. He retreats to a cave near the city every day for prayer and reflection. He is in his early twenties and has no work, no wife, and no prospects for the future. Yet he swears he has found a great and valuable treasure, will do great and noble deeds, and will take the most wise and beautiful bride of all.
For many people, stripped of all other dreams and hopes, bereft of refuge, God comes to them like the last ray of sunset, as a gift of desperation. Sadly, not all of these souls receive What and Who is being given to them, and they keep going on in the fruitless, useless ways they know. Fortunately, Francis was awake enough to let his course be changed, deeply be changed, and not only superficially to give the appearance of change. Today during instruction we will be examining that mysterious moment in his young life, when he found the courage to live thoroughly into the change commanded of him.