MEMORIAL OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI

WHO EXCEPT GOD: A HOMILY ON THE MEMORIAL OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI, BY FR. IFEANYICHUKWU HENRY NWOKORO, CSsR, BENIN

Today is the memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, but permit me to begin with a quote from St. Gerard Majella. He said “Who except God can give you peace? Has the world ever been able to satisfy the heart? Sometime next week, I will be writing a tridum in honor of St. Gerard Majella, my Redemptorist brother, whose memorial is on the 16th of Ocotber.

These words of St. Gerard Majella seem to be the words of St. Francis of Assisi who was born into wealth and nobility. He had all that the world could offer, but he could not find peace in all of that. One day, he recieved a call from God which changed his whole life. He decided to take on a life of evangelical poverty, which did not make sense to his family. One day, his father in anger asked him to return all he had given him, including the cloth he was wearing, and he did. He stripped himself completely letting go of all material things in pursuit of the highest good, God. He realised that only God can satisfy his heart.

Unlike Francis who willingly gave up everything he had, Job was ‘forced’ to give up everything he had. God was trying to teach him the big lesson that only in God can satisfaction be found. Job, after struggling to understand and make sense of all his losses makes the famous statement ‘I know my Redeemer lives’. The word redeemer comes from the Hebrew word ‘goel’. A goel is usually a close relative like an uncle, almost like what we will call next of kin; not exactly the same idea, but almost. He is the person upon whom you can call when you are in trouble and you are sure he will get you out of that trouble. For example, a slave can be bought back into freedom if his/her goel can pay the cost of buying him back. Also, when you are oweing someone and you are being arrested and detained until you pay, then you have the right to call on your ‘goel’, who will pay and set you free. A third instance of the function of a ‘goel’ is what we find in the book of Ruth. Whenever a married man dies, especially when he is still young, his ‘goel’ has the duty of taking care of the woman completely. If the man had died childless, the ‘goel’ can have sexual relations with her for the purpose of raising children for his dead relative. Those children will be like adopted children of the dead person. This kind of idea is frowned upon today, but these are the functions of a goel.

Job had lost everything, and it doesnt seem like he has any relative who can play this role in his life. So, he decided to make as his ‘goel’ the same person who allowed him to be in such terrible situation, God. He makes God his redeemer and he believes that as long as God lives, he will be fine. His hope was like that of the psalmist who said ‘I am sure I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. To come to this kind of conclussion in the midst of a difficult situation is to have the peace which the world cannot give, the peace that only God can give.

Jesus sends out the seventy-two in the Gospel and told them that whenever they come to a house, their first words should be ‘Peace to this house?’ Wow! Peace is so important in our lives that it is the first good news we should proclaim and it should be the first good news we should hear. During the celebration of the Holy Mass, the priest, just after the sign of the cross will greet the people, not with ‘Good Morning’ (which has no spiritual significance), but by saying ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all’. He is praying that we experience the living presence of the Trinity with us. When the Mass is being celebrated by the Bishop, he would say ‘Peace be with you!’ Notice this the next time a bishop is celebrating the Holy Mass. Bishop Robert Barron always begins all his homilies, without exception, with the words ‘Peace be with you!’ Maybe not all, but I have listened to so many of his homilies to believe there is no exception. On the day of our Confirmation, the Bishop, after saying ‘Be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit’, will give us a little slap on the face (reminding us that life is going to be tough), while saying ‘Peace be with you’. Then after the ‘Our Father’ prayer, a very special prayer for peace is said:

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, peace I leave you, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins but on the Faith of your Church, and grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen

Then at the end of the mass, the priest will either say ‘Go in Peace’, or ‘Go in peace glorifying the Lord with your lives’ or ‘Go and announce the gospel of the Lord’. The gospel of the Lord begins with Peace. So three times during the Holy Mass we pray for peace. Do not let any situation make you lose this peace. Let every Christian, like St. Gerard Majella believe that nothing besides God can give us peace. Let us also have the understanding of Job, who said ‘I know my ‘GOEL’ lives. Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.

UXOLO MALUBE NANI!!!

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