ASSISI, Italy, AUG. 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The former major penitentiary is urging Christians to imitate the virtues of St. Francis and his followers, rejecting envy and malice while giving praise and thanks to God.
Cardinal James Stafford affirmed this in a homily at Rivo Torto, Assisi, on the feast of the Pardon of Assisi, Aug. 2.
This feast commemorates the day in 1216 when St. Francis of Assisi received from Pope Honorius III the approval of a plenary indulgence for all those who would pray on this day in the church of the Portiuncula.
In an Aug. 2 public audience, Benedict XVI noted: “Having received papal approval, the saint did not wait for any written document but hastened to Assisi and when he reached the Portiuncula announced the good news: ‘Friends, the Lord wants to have us all in Heaven!’
“Since then, from noon on Aug. 1 to midnight on the second, it has been possible to obtain, on the usual conditions, a plenary indulgence, also for the dead, on visiting a parish church or a Franciscan one.”
The cardinal recalled the saint’s special form of addressing his followers: “Fratelli minori” or “lesser brothers.”
By choosing this phrase to describe the community, the prelate explained, St. Francis was “placing it squarely within the mystery of the kenosis, the self-emptying, of Jesus.”
The saint “chose that he and all his followers would be identified with the humble of the earth,” the cardinal added.
Springboard to heaven
He told the story of an example of “being a lesser brother” that took place in Rivo Torto, in a cowshed’s “unprepossessing shelter from rain and sun.”
Cardinal Stafford said: “After their return from Rome through Orte back to Assisi in the summer of 1209, the small band of brothers needed a place to sleep and pray.
“Francis chose this hut beside a stream bed, which in the springtime became a dangerous torrent of water. It barely was large enough for the small group of young men.
“With his usual humor Francis joked that, as a springboard to heaven, this was better than a palace.”
During the night, the prelate said, “one of the brothers unexpectedly cried out in the darkness, ‘I’m dying.'”
The saint “realized that being a lesser brother meant to have the gift of love especially in the awkward darkness of the night,” Cardinal Stafford said.
He continued: “Francis asked him what was wrong. ‘I’m dying of hunger,’ [he responded].
“‘Quick, everyone up,’ [said the saint]. ‘Prepare a meal, for the whole company. A brother must not die of hunger, but neither should he be embarrassed by having to eat alone.'”
The cardinal encouraged his audience to reflect on their own community life.
He urged them to “assess life within your family at home and community experience” faced to the “virtues of the first Franciscans here at Rivo Torto.”
Cardinal Stafford quoted Thomas of Celano, a biographer of St. Francis, who described the “virtues of this band of lesser but radically joyful brothers.”
He continued: “No envy, no malice, no rancor, no abusive speech, no suspicion, no bitterness found any place in them; but great concord, continual quiet, thanksgiving, and the voice of praise were in them.”