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St Francis of Assisi
Founder of the Friars Minor (the Franciscans) (entered heaven in 1226)
You’ll never become a mature Christian (or a mature person, for that matter) if you don’t learn to control your emotions. I don’t mean eliminate them; I don’t mean repress them; I mean control them, train them, the way you control a powerful horse with a bridle and bit. Some people tend to get angry easily, some people tend to get sad easily, some people tend to be giddy all the time – whatever our tendency is, we all need to learn balance, maturity, and self-control. Otherwise, we can never become docile to the Holy Spirit (because he often asks us to act on principles that go deeper than emotions), and without that docility, we get stuck in spiritual infancy. Today’s saint is an example of almost every Christian virtue, but the pivotal point in his journey towards holiness came when he mastered his emotions.
You are probably familiar with the story of St Francis – most people know more about him than about other saints. He was from the central Italian town of Assisi (still one of the gems of Europe, by the way, I hope you get a chance to see it some day), the outgoing and fashionable son of a successful cloth merchant. He cared little for business and less for studies, and dedicated himself wholeheartedly to having a good time with his friends and enjoying the luxurious pleasures that his plentiful pocketbook easily supplied. As he grew to manhood, he became enchanted with the chivalrous ideals of his age, and did his best to embark upon a career as a knight. But sickness intervened, as did the interior nudging of divine grace. He aborted his plans to go off and fight in the wars, and returned to his normal life, but God was at work in his heart, and he was fast falling in love with the heavenly kingdom. He didn’t know where that love affair would lead him, but he recognized early on that it required him to discipline his hitherto self-indulgent tendencies. At this juncture, he was riding one day through the plain beneath Assisi when he encountered a leper whose disease was so advanced that the mere sight of his horrific sores violently repulsed Francis. He recognized immediately that this was not a mere chance encounter. Gathering what strength he could to overcome his repugnance, he dismounted and approached the beggar. The poor man stretched out his disfigured hand to receive an alms, and Francis gave him one. At the same time he embraced the leper and kissed him. He had successfully mastered his feelings of revulsion in order to perform a Christian act of charity. Thus began the incomparable and immortal (he founded the Franciscan Order) career of the saint whom history unanimously calls “the closest image of Christ after Christ himself.”
Believe me, my young niece; I know how difficult it is to build up that kind of self-dominion. You can’t do it alone, in fact. But you are not alone – God is the first one ready and waiting to help you. Stay close to him in prayer and by reading the Gospels and visiting him in the Eucharist, and he will strengthen you for the hardest of fights – the battle against the tyranny of your own unruly emotions.