September 29, 2004

The Feast of St. Francis
And the Year of the Eucharist

by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

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St. Francis on the Eucharist
St. Francis and the goodness of the material world
The Eucharist: food for mission

Friar Jim’s Inbox:

With the approach of October 2004, two noteworthy events loom before us. One is the annual feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4. The other is the launching of the Year of the Eucharist at the request of Pope John Paul II. The year begins with the International Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, October 10-17, and it ends with the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, October 2-29, 2005. In this E-spiration, I hope to make a special link between St. Francis and the Year of the Eucharist.

St. Francis on the Eucharist

If St. Francis were alive today, he would happily embrace the idea of a year set aside by the Church to honor and appreciate more fully the great mystery of the Eucharist. Though Francis was not a trained theologian, he shows in his writings a remarkable understanding and a deep reverence for this great sacrament.

Among his authentic writings are his 28 Admonitions or teachings. In Admonition I (“The Body of Christ”), Francis says: “Behold, each day [the Son of God] humbles Himself as when he came from the royal throne into the Virgin’s womb; each day He Himself comes to us, appearing humbly; each day he comes down from the bosom of the Father upon the altar in the hands of the priest.”

To get the full import of Francis’ words, we need to look at them, as Francis did, through the prism of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:6-8). Paul’s description is that of a humble God who in becoming flesh in the womb of Mary chose to strip himself of divine glory, taking the humble form of a slave and becoming obedient even to death on a cross. Francis sees the same kind of descent from glory to humble service in Jesus’ becoming present on the altar in the form of bread and wine.

In the same Admonition, Francis goes on to develop even further the rich eucharistic dimensions of this idea: “As [Jesus] revealed Himself to the holy apostles in true flesh,” says Francis, “so He reveals himself to us now in sacred bread.…Let us, as we see bread and wine with bodily eyes, see and firmly believe that they are his most holy Body and Blood living and true. And in this way the Lord is always with his faithful, as He Himself says: Behold I am with you until the end of the age.

St. Francis and the goodness of the material world

One of the implications of Francis’ love and reverence for the Eucharist and the sacraments of the Church is his reverence for the material world. At the time of Francis, the heresy of the Albigensians was alive and well in Assisi and also in over 500 other towns of Europe.

The Albigensians, who took their name from the heresy’s place of origin, Alba, in France, saw an absolute split between the spiritual world and the material world. The spiritual world was created by God and was good, while the material world was created by the devil and was evil. Jesus, according to their teaching, had only a spiritual nature. His material body was make-believe, only an illusion. The Albigensians also looked negatively upon the sacramental system of the Catholic Church because of its friendly alliance with the material world.

St. Francis of Assisi’s vision was not tainted by Albigensian attitudes. As Franciscan Friar Murray Bodo points out in The Threefold Way of St. Francis (Paulist Press), Francis “embraces lepers who were perceived by those imbued with Albigensian attitudes as images of the real evil of matter; he embraces the sacramentality of the Catholic Church which anoints matter as the most important vehicle of grace: the water of Baptism, the oil of anointing, the bread and wine of Eucharist, the consummation of married love. Francis also enters into all creation and praises God through, with, for and in creatures.” In short, Francis’ life and example are “an anti-Albigensian statement.”

It is a fact of history, moreover, that the popular preaching of the Franciscan friars, as well as the Dominican friars, during and after the 1220’s was a most effective tool in combating the Albigensian errors. This leads us to our next point, namely, a link between the Eucharist and the evangelizing mission and building up of the Church today.

The Eucharist: food for mission

Pope John Paul II has recently written a short message entitled Eucharist and Mission as a way to launch the Year of the Eucharist. The short document also sets the theme of World Mission Sunday, October 17, 2004, the last day of the International Eucharistic Congress.

In Eucharist and Mission, the pope notes that just as the Eucharist nurtures and brings into being the Church (the Body of Christ), so also the Church brings into being the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. To use the pope’s own words, “The Eucharist builds the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist.”

“Around Christ in the Eucharist,” the pope stresses later, “the Church grows as the people, the temple and family of God: one, holy, catholic and apostolic.…Certainly no Christian community can be built up unless it has its basis and center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist. At the end of every Mass, when the celebrant takes leave of the assembly with the words, ‘Ite, Missa est’ [“Go, the Mass is ended”], all should feel they are sent as ‘missionaries of the Eucharist’ to carry to every environment the great gift received.”

The spirit of St. Francis resonates well with this message. Francis indeed carried the message of God’s goodness “to every environment,” preaching even to the birds and animals and praising God in “Brother Sun and Sister Moon” and in all other creatures.

I invite you to read the full text of Pope John Paul II’s Eucharist and Mission, as reprinted in Catholic Update (October 2004) under the title of Eucharist: Food for Mission.

Friar Jim’s Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jim’s “What Is the Nativity of Mary?”

Dear Friar Jim: I have a question that was posed to me by a Protestant friend. In Jewish tradition, one’s heritage comes from the mother’s family lineage. Jesus’ father, Joseph, came from the House of David as prophesied in the Bible. I cannot find in the Bible that Mary and her parents, Joachim and Anne, came from the House of David. What is Mary’s lineage and how does Jesus’ lineage through her reconcile this? Patti

Dear Patti: The two genealogies of Jesus (Mt 1:1-17) and (Luke 3:23-38) should be viewed in light of the literary, social and especially the religious intent the writers had in mind. The two lists represent two very different ways of communicating not only Jesus’ lineage but also the revelation of his divine Person and the role he has relative to God’s disclosure for the coming of his Kingdom and his plan of salvation. In both gospels, Jesus’ lineage is traced on Joseph’s side, the legal father upon whom Jewish law conferred complete legal paternity. Both genealogies make it clear that Jesus has descended from David (Mt 1:1, 6, 17; Luke 3:31). Matthew goes back to Abraham and Luke goes back to Adam, the Son of God. Why the difference: because Matthew was writing primarily to a Jewish audience and he wanted them to realize that Jesus was indeed the new David, the new Moses and the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. In other words, Jesus is the Messiah they have all been longing for. Luke, on the other hand, is writing primarily for a gentile audience and wants to emphasize Jesus’ universal salvation. Friar Jim

Dear Friar Jim: I was always fascinated with the statement, “Mary, handmaid of the Lord.” While many have their own description of this, I cannot help but think of God doing all the molding and creating of this one person, Mary, with His very own hands for that one reason. She was made by the Hands of God to be Mother of God. Truly a woman, full of grace. Glory to God. Sincerely, F. Rodak

Dear F. Rodak: Your image of “God fashioning Mary with his loving hands” is a beautiful one. It reminds me of God’s words to Jeremiah, “like clay in the hands of the potter, so are you in my hand (Mary).” Friar Jim

Dear Friar Jim: Thank you for the issue about the Nativity of Mary. It was wonderful and beautifully written. God Bless, Carol

Dear Carol: Thank you, Carol, for your kind words. Our faith is so rich with truth and imagery; it's inexhaustible. Friar Jim

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