Feast Day: April 2nd
My guess is that no one who reads this article is currently a consecrated hermit. (If someone is, my thanks for your self-gift to the Lord! And, please pray for us who carry more evidently the cross of living in the world but not of the world!) And yet, I think the saint we celebrate, and call upon, this week – St. Francis of Paula – a hermit, and founder of the Order of Minims, is still abundantly applicable to each in the 21st century. Born in 1416, in the region of Calabria in Italy (famous now for its lemons, olives, and spicy red peppercino’s… as well as being the toe of the Italian boot), Francis’ story begins before his conception.
His parents, themselves a devoted and prayerful couple, were unable to conceive, and like so many couples now who carry that troubling and lonely cross of infertility, could only go to God with their longing for children and put their hope in Him. Praying to St. Francis of Assisi, the Poverello from further north in Italy brought their prayers to the Lord, and they finally conceived. They were delighted to name their little son Francisco.
Any mother or father reading this, though, knows that conception is only the first of many chances to trust that a child brings to their parents. As a baby, Francis had an enigmatic swelling around one of his eyes. Uncertainty, doubt, fear, and worry crashed upon the young couple as their little boy’s eyesight was threatened. They turned again, continuously, to God, beseeching again St. Francis’ prayers, even promising that when he was older, if their little Francisco was cured, they would let him spend a year with the Franciscans. This was not a small promise for a poor family, especially before knowing that they would be blessed with two other children in the years to come. Yet their faithful prayers were rewarded: Francisco was immediately healed.
He would grow into taking for himself the devotion and prayerfulness of his parents, and, to no one’s surprise, and his parents’ pride and sanctification, would in fact spend that year in a Franciscan friary as a young man. Returning home, they went on a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to Assisi and Rome after his year of obedience, humility, chastity, and poverty under the rule of St. Francis. Treasuring that experience, but not feeling the Lord’s directing him to continue with the Order of Friars Minor, the young man found a cave on his family farm and began to live a life of intense prayer and poverty to discern who the Lord was beckoning him to be. His parents and he both must have found their hearts stretched by the Lord’s silent Love, simply asking all of them to put their trust in Him. The months, and then years, rolled past, and Francis found himself at peace in embracing the life of a hermit.
Two other men would join him, somehow coming to know of Francis’ holiness and love for God and wanting it for themselves. More years past and our saint-in-the-making now found himself building a monastery and church in Cosenza (several miles east of Paula). Francis of Assisi so many years before had singlehandedly rebuilt the chapel of the portiuncula, enduring the insults and flung rocks from his previous compadres, but now a new Francis had the help and love of the noblemen, who themselves carried stones to build this Church growing up around the intense poverty of their beloved hermit. Francis and his followers would embrace a life of complete poverty, chastity, obedience, as well as abstinence from all animal products (meat, cheese, butter, eggs, etc.)
He was a vegan hermit! How many millennials (and others) have embraced a similar lifestyle in our own say?! Of course, we might fruitfully ask whether that dietary restriction was directed by the Lord … and yet, as I smile at this line of thought, doesn’t this mean that Francis of Paula once again connects to us today? Are you abstaining from meat for Lent? Are you unable to eat foods with lactose? Have you chosen (or been forced into) a vegan diet? Instead of just enduring it, do it for the sake of God, to be united with Jesus’ simplicity of life. Instead of changing your diet for mere physical health, do so for your supernatural health!
– Fr. Dominic Rankin will soon be preparing to MC for all the liturgies of Holy Week. It will be a hectic, but heavenly, commemoration of all that Jesus has won for us! If, like St. Francis of Paula, the Lord calls me home to Himself during the recitation of the Passion of St. John on Good Friday, I’d ask that one of the priests would give me Anointing and Communion, and perhaps Fr. Alford could step in as MC so that the liturgy could continue…