For this feast day of Saint Francis, which is commemorated by his orders with the Transitus, that devotion which commemorates the Saints passing from this life to the next; one must start with the passing of Franciscan Friar Father Benedict Groeschel CFR who completed his earthly journey on the eve this feast day. Before hearing of his passing, on this Saint Francis day I wanted to think of all of the people that have been influenced by Saint Francis who did not wear a Habit. First though perhaps it would be wiser to pause and think of those like Father Groeschel that did wear the habit of Francis, and did bring Francis to many who were not familiar the saint. Father Groeschel did bring Saint Francis through his talks to many, and through writings, and his religious order the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Most notably Benedict and his friars brought Francis to people through their outreach programs, particularly their service to the poor and the disadvantaged. His service was truly the best celebration of the feast of Saint Francis.
I am sure though that even Father Groeschel did not only see Saint Francis in people who wore robes. Francis himself emphasized that it was service to God and faithfulness to the Gospel that was the most important rule, and all others were secondary. To Francis it was not important who performed the service, what was important was the service itself. Christians need not wear a robe to commemorate Francis. Francis can be seen in countless Christians that do offer service to the disadvantaged, and frequently people that do that type of work frequently have a quiet devotion to that saint. Perhaps that devotion to the poor was nourished by people such as Francis’s Friars of the Renewal.
Francis, that keen observer of nature, often saw God working through nature and through the creatures of nature. He is the patron saint of ecology and though environmentalists can commonly be political opponents of the Church, frequently many of those who immerse themselves in nature are indeed spiritually Franciscan. Their habit though not a robe typically are the rough cloth of workmen specified in Francis’s rule. How far removed are jeans, a hoodie, and a rosary from the Franciscans robe and cord? One too can think of all of those dedicated to animal shelters. Those that train therapy dogs, and dogs for the blind can frequently be Franciscans working in disguise. Much of Francis’s message was spread by those third order secular Franciscans. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, social workers, shopkeepers, teachers, farmers, gardeners, stone masons, and carpenters all had the ability to carry out Francis’s message. Each had the ability to carry that message their own way, with a robe or without. Francis wasn’t all about the clothing, but about a life faithful to the gospel message, and he stressed that message was everyone in every state of life.