There is a statue in front of the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, Italy that has always intrigued me. While I have never been there myself (Assisi is on my bucket list!) , I still appreciate looking at photos of this statue that is placed directly in front of the beautiful place of worship. This statue is of Francis coming back from battle. The young Francis, who was the son of a wealthy merchant, had dreams of becoming a great knight. When a war broke out with a neighboring town, Francis eagerly took his place in the army. It was an experience that would change his life.
During battle, the young knight was taken captive and would spend a year in horrible conditions. It was during this time that he began to receive visions from God. After returning from Assisi, he was sick and weary in body and spirit.
An Italian travel magazine describes the statue and the moment it depicts in this way, “The wind swept over the square outside the Upper Basilica, filling the sky with grey clouds. St Francis sat astride his horse with bowed head. This statue captures the moment when, in 1204, the saint heard the voice of God telling him to leave the war and return home. The grass shivered and swayed; the rain was not far away.”
The voice of God is one that continual calls us to peace. The life of Jesus is one that calls us to deny the way of violence. While the life of Francis is one often depicted with lovely colors and lots of animals, his was a life of downward mobility, as Henri Nouwen writes. Francis left the way of wealth, consumerism, war and violence, to live a life called to the lepers and downcast with a connection with all of creation.
Francis’ life still speaks to our world today, which is one that still believes in the power of greed, possessions, violence and weapons over the power of God. On this Saint Francis Day, our world is still at war. Violence still plagues Syria. Refugees still need homes, food and basic necessities, while much of the world ignores their cry for help. Here at home in the United States, injustice still plagues our streets. Violence and greed still runs the show.
Too often, I feel much like the defeated Francis in this statue. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the things wrong in the world. Yet, people like Francis, who desired to follow Jesus’ life and God’s call so closely, left all that he had known to pursue God’s Kingdom. We need more people who are willing to follow the way of Jesus and Francis in our world. There’s a great need for people to learn how to lay down their swords, weapons and guns and work for peace instead, and to also learn how to remove ourselves from supporting a violent gun culture. Our world needs more people of faith to welcome and help refugees as Francis reached out to the lepers.
I really connect with this image of Francis’ bowed head on his horse, because it was in his lowest point that God spoke and worked in this life. It is in our lowest and weakest moments that God is often able to speak and move as well.
Today is Saint Francis Day, or in the Roman Catholic world the Feast Day of Saint Francis, the day when he died. On this Saint Francis Day, may we commit ourselves to the way of peace and service. This is the call of Jesus. This is the way of Francis. May we pray for peace around the world and in places like Syria. May we offer Christ like care and love to those who are refugees all around us. May we celebrate Saint Francis this day and always.