We are going through a difficult time right now as a country, and a difficult time as a Church. We are a very divided society, and each side can be very mean-spirited and very vindictive right now. We are facing a very challenging situation in our country - from a financial perspective in terms of our debt and budget-deficit, and also in terms of the values that drive our society and define our morality. I think of these two saints in this difficult time. St Francis of Assisi was born in Italy in the late 12th century. We all know his story - how he was born into a very rich family, how he turned his back on God and embraced the ways of the world. Yet, he felt called by God to radically live out the Gospel and to proclaim God's holy world. Now, eight centuries after his birth, his message of seeing God in creation and of taking care of the earth still seems so fresh and relevant to us today. I received this wooden statue of St Francis of Assisi from a group of Franciscans from Burlington, Wisconsin when I was attending a retreat with them while training to be a lay missionaries. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and of the environment.
St Martin de Porres lived in Peru in late 16th century, the same century that the Spanish conquistadors and the Catholic faith arrived on the shores of Latin America. Martin de Porres was the product of the clash of these cultures - his father was a Spaniard working for the colonial government, while his mother was a freed African slave. Martin's humble spirit was evident in the way he served God. He would visit the poor and the sick, and would humbly sweep out their residences and bring them food. Martin humbly proclaimed God's kingdom in his love and service for others, even in the midst of people discriminating against him because of his African heritage. When Martin died, the rich and poor alike took to the street of Lima, Peru to mourn his passing. I purchased this statue of Martin de Porres in front of the Cathedral in Santiago, Chile in the summer of 2003 while I was there on a fellowship in the Fulbright-Hays program with the US Department of Education.
Both Martin and Francis proclaimed the truth of Christ's message in the reality of their lives, in the reality of the era in which they lived. They never strayed from the truth, yet they proclaimed the truth with a sense of love and compassion, not with a mean-spirited nature. We could learn a lot from Francis of Assisi and Martin de Porres. I recently recommended to a parishioner that she pray the peace prayer of Francis of Assisi each day for a month and to see how that message resonates with her in her life. She said that was a very tough proposition that I proposed to her. She was very much afraid of what this exercise might stir up in her. May we remember the example of Martin de Porres and Francis of Assisi in the months to come. May their courage, passion, and civility be an example to us all.