Scripture: 1st Reading: Neh2,1-8; Resp. Psalm: Ps137,1-6; Gosp. Accl.: Phil3,8-9; Gospel: Luke9,57-62
Nehemiah today made an uncommon request from King Artaxerxes, the inheritor of the throne of Israel's oppressors. The request was simple but one that would have been difficult to grant: to allow Nehemiah to go back to Judah to rebuild the temple and the sepulchres of the Patriarchs and the walls of the city. This was a request that Artaxerxes would normally not have granted because the rebuilding of the temple and the city would mark the return of life to Jerusalem and rebirth of the nation. But God was with Nehemiah. With this, the king had no choice but to grant his request!
Nehemiah was consumed with zeal for the house of God. Even in exile, his heart was never at rest. He remembered Zion and wept. He knew it was impossible to sing the Lord's praise in an alien land. He was consumed with zeal for the house of encounter, the temple in Jerusalem. God satisfied his desire.
The desire for God is exactly what our Lord taught those who wanted to follow Him in today's gospel. Our Lord told them that for them to follow Him, their desire for God must consume their entire lives to such extent that they will no longer think of where to lay their head; no longer consider family ties and the obligations that impose; no longer be distracted but follow the Master resolutely and with undivided attention.
The desire for God consumed the entire life of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most outstanding persons in history, whose memorial we celebrate today. What was and still is the attraction in Francis' life? In St. Francis, we see the following attributes in an extraordinary, supra-human way: radical living for the gospel; radical choice for voluntary, self imposed poverty; radical love of Jesus the poor; radical embrace of Jesus in every poor and marginalized person; total gift of his body as a sacrificial offering for Jesus.
Francis had an uncommon, personal, immediate commitment, attachment and passionate adherence to the word and the Word; acceptance of creation as good and as gift from our benevolent and kind God; realization that these gifts are to be used to return praise to the Maker; total, perfect union of love and friendship between man and creation such that creation is never to be exploited, used and degraded but valued, appreciated, promoted and celebrated.
Francis did not believe in half measures: it was either he obeyed the word of God with an unparalleled immediacy or nothing. Francis lived his entire life under the principle that God speaks directly, in the here and now, in the present, to us and we have the obligation to give a generous response each time we hear God speak when the scripture is read or heard.
St. Francis was a mystic of unparalleled comparison in the history of the Church. He was a man of God, and a man of the people. He was a man of indescribable humility, a man of union with God in prayer. He was a man who trusted in God not as an intellectual assent but who in practical terms lived it. He was a man who practically depended on God for day to day sustenance and taught his disciples and followers to do the same. He was a man of fiery, ardent, combustible love for Jesus. For Francis, Jesus was everything.
From the time Francis renounced his father's immense wealth and embraced poverty and mendicant life till the end of his very short life, Francis gloried only in one thing: the cross of Jesus by which the world was crucified to him and he to the world. From that day, he was a new creation and nothing meant anything to him (Gal6,14-18). Francis accepted the mysteries of the kingdom like an infant (Mt11,25-30) in an open, trusting, submissive and obedient way. He was totally enamoured by God.
His life gives us a good model for our lives even today: his constancy, commitment, total, generous gift of self to Christ and His mission. His radical love of poverty challenges our age that has deified materialism and acquisition of goods and luxury; his radical embrace of chastity challenges the hedonism and sexual permissiveness of our age; his love of obedience provides a beacon in an age where many prefer their wills to God's will and openly disobey Him in many aspects of their lives. May St. Francis intercede for us. May God raise up many more persons in the Church of our time who will be imbued with the spirit of St. Francis.
Let us pray: "O God, by whose gift Saint Francis was conformed to Christ in poverty and humility, grant that by walking in Francis' footsteps we may follow your Son, and through joyful charity come to be united with you." Amen.
May the Living Word of God find a true dwelling place within our hearts and souls today and always.