By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.
These are the notes to the homily preached at a discernment weekend for men considering the Capuchin Franciscans this morning, the Solemnity of our Holy Father Francis.
When Francis knelt before the Crucifix in San Damiano, could he have imagined what his life would become?
Did Saint Paul, knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus, realize what was in store for him?
Did I, showing up at this very place, parking my car outside after a long commute from Baltimore to come to a candidate weekend, know where my life was headed?
No. No. And absolutely no.
Did Francis, laying on the bare earth, considering the brothers, bleeding from his hands and side, moments from embracing Sister Death, look back on his life and realize that he had been carried by grace all along?
Did Paul, in chains in a dank Roman prison, awaiting his death sentence, consider all the churches planted, all the controversies mediated, all the principalities confronted, and realize that he had been carried by grace all along?
Do I, standing here, still attempting to figure out where I got this habit, how I came to my priesthood, standing seven years later on this side of the chapel (rather than where you’re sitting), know that somehow, in someway, despite my own sinfulness, grace is working?
Yes. Yes. And absolutely yes.
Brothers in Christ: whether or not you will be called “Brother friars” is not up to me: in fact, it’s not up to anyone in this room. That is the task of the Holy Spirit, breathing into your hearts a vocation, a realization that Christ calls you to re-form your baptismal vocation into a specific consecration to God as a Capuchin.
But, regardless, there is a fundamental question and challenge that we are all asked here in this place as we commemorate our Holy Father Francis: are we willing, just as he was, just as the men who have come before us bearing names like Felix of Cantalice, Bonaventure of Bagnoreggio, Fidelis of Sigmarigen, Barnabas of Valley Stream, and Zachary of the Bronx, to boast of nothing but the Cross of Christ?
This question – and our answer to it – determines everything.
The Cross does not simply exist as a monument, some type of memorial of what Christ did. No, it is – and must be – a living and breathing (and bleeding) reminder of what Christ is still doing in the world and of what we too are called to do.
Indeed, to be a Christian – no less a Capuchin – is to take to heart the common vocation of being crucified to the world: to live and pray and work and love with all of the crucified peoples of the world, to minister to those who still, to this day seek their brothers and sisters to take them down from the cross. Or, at the very least we are called to ascend to the cross next to them so that they are not so alone!
To commemorate Francis of Assisi is to realize that in the darkest and dingiest corners of our world, our cities, our homes, and our hearts, grace is the most operative. In these places, Christ is most crucified: this is where Christ’s wounds and our wounds are able to grow so close to each other that we cannot know where ours end and his begin.
The call to be a Christian is to be crucified with and through Christ; the call to be a Capuchin is to do it with brothers. But in all these situations and all these things, grace works because the Cross remains – but even more importantly, the one who was on that same cross is no longer there, for he lives – he lives in you, he lives in me – and most especially, he lives in those who are themselves to this are being crucified. Yet, Christ’s presence in those suffering is not the end of the story: it is through Christ’s presence that they are raised, raised to the same Resurrection which sprang forth from a fresh cut Galilean tomb many years ago.
Let us not wait a moment longer: let us embrace the crucified one, to find, grace, most precious grace, until all Crosses are emptied in the Kingdom.