Bishop Hartmayer gestures as he presents his homily on the Feast of Saint Francis during Mass in Saint Mary’s Chapel at the Catholic Pastoral Center, Savannah, Oct. 4. Photograph by Timothy L. Williams. Homily can be viewed on the diocese's Youtube page.

Bishop Hartmayer celebrates feast of Saint Francis, founder of his order

Originally Appeared in : 9921-10/10/19

Excerpted from Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.’s homily given on the feast of Saint Francis, Oct. 4.


I want to talk also about a young man who lived a very frivolous life, lived a kind of a wild lifestyle as a young man in Italy, in Assisi, in the late 1100s. And he is similar to Saint Augustine; he is similar to Saint Ignatius Loyola—their biographies are very similar. They seemed to have to go through this period of recklessness, of inaccountability, of just living life for the moment and not thinking about the future or not thinking about 'what are you going to do with your life? You cannot just continue to live this way as if there's no tomorrow.'


His parents were successful business people, and they would be happy to have him a part of that business. But he had no interest in it. He wanted to be a knight. And so he became a knight, which was a dream of every young man in those days, in the medieval period.


But he was a failure as a knight. He got caught. He was imprisoned. Then he got sick. So he had a lot of time to think about his future. And he came back to Assisi a broken man, a man with his head down, humbled, almost as a failure.


And so it was then that he went into the chapel of Saint Damien. And he prayed before the cross, the crucifix, which is the original replica of the crucifix that I normally wear, the San Damiano cross. And he meditated upon that cross as he looked upon it, and the cross gave him some guidance, some direction. He said to Francis: Rebuild my Church, because it is falling apart.


So Francis took that as a sign of what he should do, and so he left his parents and left their business and really kind of disowned them because they didn't understand why he would turn down a bright future, a secure future, and live recklessly again and simply go about the town in a joyful way, repairing churches: repairing stones and steps and windows.


Then there were others that joined him. They followed him. And then he came to the awareness that it was not the outside of the church that Jesus was asking him to repair or restore: It was the inside of the Church. It was the people.


I cannot help but think that our present pope, a Jesuit, was the first to take the name Francis in the moment of his selection as a cardinal to become the pope. He too felt the mission to rebuild the Church, to restore the Church, to clarify the Church, to bring life into the Church. And a man who did not want to be pope, had no interest in it, was hoping that it would never happen, became the pope. And as a result he saw that as a sign of God to do his will and that would be to repair the Church.


He has struggled through his papacy. He is been criticized for some of the decisions he is made or the implications that people have interpreted about what he is saying or not saying about certain beliefs or behaviors. And it is kind of disturbing for people not to have that definitive answer from the pope 'yes' or 'no' 'black' or ‘white.' No, his leaving it open. He is opening discussions. He is saying 'Let’s talk about it. Who am I to judge?'


It was Saint Pope John Paul XXIII, St. John XXIII, who opened the window in bringing forth the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. And Francis wants to keep that door open and that window open and to widen the Church and to bring people back to Church.


And so we see Francis of Assisi, in his lifestyle, kind of prefiguring the current pope for whom Pope Francis has a great deal of respect. We see that Saint Francis founded an order of friars, of men who would also do what he did: not repair the outside of the church but preach and teach­—not by words but by example.


He lived a very simple lifestyle to live a vowed life of poverty: Don't own anything; chastity; no family; no marriage; and obedience to do the will of God as dictated by the pope in approving the rule of life that Saint Francis would use as a guide to run the Franciscan order. For more than 800 years that rule that was approved: Saint John Lateran is the rule that we still live by today.


Franciscans are in abundance throughout the country and throughout the world. Both men and women and lay members are associated with the Franciscan order and the Franciscan way of life. And that is the saint who we celebrate today. And he is known for many things, especially his love of animals and his love of creation.


His name is very popular among the teenagers who I confirm. I do not know if they're trying to butter me up because they realize now, after eight years, that I am a Franciscan, and they have heard it from their brothers and sisters and their pastors: 'Do not forget he is a Franciscan, you know.' So they know, and they take the name Francis—many of them—and they research, and they come to know him as a man who struggled through life as a teenager and then eventually made something out of his life because he incorporated God in his life, and he followed God's will as best as he could. And so that is whose feast we celebrate today, and I could go on and on and on. He was a great saint in the church.


I feel blessed to have joined the Franciscan order 50 years ago and have lived that life as best as I can in a variety of ways and in places throughout the United States. But my position here as the Franciscan bishop of Savannah is unique. It is life giving. It is joyful for me, and it is a way I think that I can bring a little bit of Franciscanism to the diocese and especially on the feast of his day of his resurrection. And so may the Lord grant you his peace. Amen.


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