“Francis, put out that fire in you, or you will burn up the whole world!”
Thus said one of Francis of Assisi’s friars to the seraphic Saint.
I had never heard this before, but we had a visiting Franciscan friar for Mass today, and I was delighted with the story.
Can you imagine setting the world on fire with love for God? St. Catherine of Siena said something similar: “If you become what you should be, you will set the world on fire.”
I love the Saints. They fascinate me endlessly. How did they get like that? Why are they all on fire? What is their secret?
Father Bob said that Saints are not so much about loving God as they are about being astonished at God’s Love for them. They come to know His Love, and are consumed with the desire for everyone to love Him. The flames leap out of them, catch others, and they begin to burn too.
I ponder my own little heart which has a few smoldering embers at best. After all this time, I can barely keep my fire lit. Yet Father said we are all like containers into which God pours His Holy Spirit to inflame us, and everyone we encounter.
If a poll were taken, the two most popular Saints in the Church would most likely be St. Francis and St. Therese. (Our Lady is in a class by Herself, of course!)
The Saint who received the wounds of Christ from a seraphim, and the Saint who offered herself as a holocaust to the Merciful Love of God.
Why are they so exalted by God in His Church, and so beloved by most Catholics?
Therese said that her vocation was to be love in the heart of the Church. Surely every Saint attains the heights of charity. But for Francis and Therese, it seemed to be their entire focus. They simply lived to love. Therese wrote a poem about it, an exquisite poem, “Living on Love.”
And how did they live on love? To me it seems that once they saw Jesus, they never took their eyes off of Him again. Therese used to pray, “Jesus make me resemble you.”
Francis threw himself so entirely into the Father’s arms that he even divested himself of his clothes that he would have nothing in this world, except his Lady Poverty. He took Jesus so literally that he truly was fed and clothed in much the same way as the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. He was so empty that God filled him to overflowing with charity and with fire. At the end of his life, he was even found worthy to be marked with His Savior’s wounds – the first recorded case of the Stigmata.
Centuries later, in a monastery in France, Therese was enraptured by the Holy Face of Jesus. She could not live on the streets and beg for food as Francis had done, but she could eat fish heads and the leftovers that were regularly served to her because she never complained. She could go thirsty because the nun who sat across from her in refectory regularly drank Therese’s glass of cider at dinner.
Everyday she could beat back her own will as she deferred to others, the struggle hidden behind her determined smile. Therese lived on God alone as surely as Francis did. And she delighted in offering everything as an act of love to Jesus — even something as simple as picking up a pin off the floor.
As she was so fond of saying, “God does not need great deeds from us, what He wants is our love.”
Therese literally offered herself as a victim to the Merciful Love of God. She asked that He consume her in all His Love which is everywhere rejected and despised. “Must it be only Your Justice which has its victims? What of Your Merciful Love? Must it remained locked up in Your Heart? …..consume me unceasingly in its flames.”
I am not a Saint because I don’t trust God with everything. There are things I don’t want to happen to me — like certain illnesses or loss of loved ones. There are battles I still fight for myself. There is all the time I waste on things like unnecessary shopping or watching TV. There are the half-hearted efforts when I don’t “feel” like doing more than is needed, and so on.
But I rejoice that there are Saints like Francis and Therese and thousands more to love God as He longs to be loved.
And as this Pentecost comes to a close, I pray that the Holy Spirit will inflame my own heart with a purifying fire that will burn away all that keeps me from “living on love.”
And although I can do nothing of myself, He can do all things. Come Holy Spirit and make me a Saint, and let me become Your dream of me. For You my God, time means nothing. It is never too late.
Jesus, make me resemble You!