St. Francis of Assisi

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of a saint who is very dear to me, St. Francis of Assisi.  When I visualize the communion of saints surrounding Jesus in heaven, St. Francis has a prominent place in the front of the group.

During my many years as a Buddhist, I had very few connections to the Catholic faith in which I had been raised.  St. Francis, however, was my continuing link to Catholicism during those years.  I used to tease a Franciscan friend of mine that Francis was really Buddhist.  There was something in him that I could feel a connection with at a very deep level even as I rejected most everything else that had to do with Catholicism (including a belief in God).  Even as a Buddhist, visiting the places Francis walked had significance for me.

During the difficult period of my conversion back to Catholicism, Francis was there for me when I needed him.  As the Spirit started to do its work and I was struggling with what was surfacing, where could I turn? I certainly couldn’t, at the time, have any meaningful conversation with a God I claimed not to believe in.  So I talked with Francis and sat with Francis.  (And also with my Franciscan friend, who was an incredible gift during this period.)  And from Francis I received consolation and companionship as I worked things through.

And then one day, I walked into church (during this period I didn’t believe in God I was making frequent visits both to my parish church and to St. Francis Church on 32nd street in NYC), looked up in my mind at Francis, and something shifted.  I heard myself say, “I’m here, Lord” and watched Francis step aside.  And in his place, there was God.

When I think back on that day, what comes to mind is the scene at the end of the Mary Poppins movie, where the children are off flying kites with their (now warm and loving) father and having a grand time of it.  Mary’s companion (a bird of some sort) says, “Hrmph.  You’d think they love their father more than they love you.”  And Mary Poppins smiles and says, “Just as it should be.”   To me that describes perfectly Francis’ reaction: I know deep in my heart that Francis was not at all upset about losing center stage with me – that he moved gracefully to the sidelines with great love and with great satisfaction that I was reconciled with God.