A blessed feast of St. Francis of Assisi to my few readers. Some of you have read the words spoken by Pope Francis in a homily given earlier today. Courtesy of Fr. Peter Carota, I thought it would be good to post a letter from St. Francis himself given to all the faithful in the year (most scholars agree) 1215 A.D. If the Holy Father’s choice of name brings more attention to this great saint of the Church, that is all to the good!
“LETTER TO ALL THE FAITHFUL” by St. Francis of Assisi
TO ALL CHRISTIANS, religious, clerics and lay folk, men and women; to everyone in the whole world, Brother Francis, their servant and subject, sends his humble respects, imploring for them true peace from heaven and sincere love of God. I am the servant of all and so I am bound to wait upon everyone and make known to them the fragrant words of my Lord. Realizing, however, that because of my sickness and ill-health I cannot personally visit each one individually, I decided to send you a letter bringing a message with the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Word of the Father, and of the Holy Spirit, whose words are spirit and life (Jn 6: 64).
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the glorious Word of the Father, so holy and exalted, whose coming the Father made known by St. Gabriel the Archangel to the glorious and blessed Virgin Mary, in whose womb he took on our weak human nature. He was rich beyond measure and yet he and his holy Mother chose poverty.
Then, as his passion drew near, he celebrated the Pasch with his disciples and, taking bread, he blessed and broke, and gave to his disciples, and said, Take and eat; this is my body. And taking a cup, he gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, This is my blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins (Mt. 26: 26-29). And he prayed to his Father, too, saying, Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me (Mt. 26: 39); and it was the Father’s will that his blessed and glorious Son, whom he gave to us and who was born for our sake, should offer himself by his own blood as a sacrifice and victim on the altar of the cross; and this, not for himself, through whom all things were made (Jn 1: 3), but for our sins, leaving us an example that we may follow in his steps ( 1Pet. 2: 21). It is the Father’s will that we should all be saved by the Son, and that we should receive him, or want to be saved by him, although his yoke is easy, and his burden light (Mt. 11: 30).
All those who refuse to taste and see how good the Lord is (Ps. 33: 9) and who love the darkness rather than the light (Jn. 3: 19) are under a curse. It is God’s commandments they refuse to obey and so it is of them the Prophet says, You rebuke the accursed proud who turn away from your commands (Ps. 118: 21). On the other hand, those who love God are happy and blessed. They do as our Lord himself tells us in the Gospel, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul…and thy neighbour as thyself (Mt. 22: 37-39). We must love God, then, and adore him with a pure heart and mind, because this is what he seeks above all else, as he tells us, True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (Jn. 4: 23). All who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4: 24). We should praise him and pray to him day and night, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven (Mt. 6: 9), because we must always pray and not lose heart (Lk. 18: 1).
And moreover, we should confess all our sins to a priest and receive from him the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The man who does not eat his flesh and drink his blood cannot enter the kingdom of God (cf. Jn 6: 54). Only he must eat and drink worthily because he who eats and drinks unworthily, without distinguishing the body, eats and drinks judgment to himself (1 Cor. 11:29); that is, if he sees no difference between it and other food.
Besides this, we must bring forth therefore fruits befitting repentance (Lk. 3: 8) and love our neighbours as ourselves. Anyone who will not or cannot love his neighbour as himself should at least do him good and not do him any harm.
Those who have been entrusted with the power of judging others should pass judgment mercifully, just as they themselves hope to obtain mercy from God. For judgment without mercy to him who has not shown mercy (Jn. 2: 13). We must be charitable, too, and humble, and give alms, because they wash the stains of sin from our souls. We lose everything which we leave behind in this world; we can bring with us only the right to a reward for our charity and the alms we have given. For these we shall receive a reward, a just retribution from God. We are also bound to fast and avoid vice and sin, taking care not to give way to excess in food and drink, and we must be Catholics. We should visit churches often and show great respect for the clergy, not just for them personally, for they may be sinners, but because of their high office, for it is they who administer the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. They offer It in sacrifice at the altar, and it is they who receive It and administer It to others. We should realize, too, that no one can be saved except by the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and the holy words of God, and it is the clergy who tell us his words and administer the Blessed Sacrament, and they alone have a right to do it, and no one else.
Religious especially are bound to make greater efforts, without neglecting the duties of ordinary Christians, because they have left the world.
Our lower nature, the source of so much vice and sin, should be hateful to us. Our Lord says in the Gospel, it is from the heart of man that all vice and sin comes (cf. Mt. 15: 18-19), and he tells us, Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you (Lk. 6: 27). We are bound to order our lives according to the precepts and counsels of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so we must renounce self and bring our lower nature into subjection under the yoke of obedience; this is what we have all promised God. However, no one can be bound to obey another in anything that is sinful or criminal.The man who is in authority and is regarded as the superior should become the least of all and serve his brothers, and he should be as sympathetic with each one of them as he would wish others to be with him if he were in a similar position. If one of his brothers falls into sin, he should not be angry with him; on the contrary, he should correct him gently, with all patience and humility, and encourage him.
It is not for us to be wise and calculating in the world’s fashion; we should be guileless, lowly, and pure. We should hold our lower nature in contempt, as a source of shame to us, because through our own fault we are wretched and utterly corrupt, nothing more than worms, as our Lord tells us by the Prophet, I am a worm; the scorn of men, despised by the people (Ps. 21: 7). We should not want to be in charge of others; we are to be servants, and should be subject to every human creature for God’s sake (1Pet. 2: 13). On all those who do this and endure to the last the Spirit of God will rest (cf. Is. 11: 2); he will make his dwelling in them and there he will stay, and they will be children of your Father in heaven (Mt. 5: 45) whose work they do. It is they who are the brides, the brothers and the mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ. A person is his bride when his faithful soul is united with Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit; we are his brothers when we do the will of his Father who is in heaven (cf. Mt. 12: 50), and we are mothers to him when we enthrone him in our hearts and souls by love with a pure and sincere conscience, and give him birth by doing good. This, too, should be an example to others.
How glorious, how holy and wonderful it is to have a Father in heaven. How holy it is, how beautiful and lovable to have in heaven a Bridegroom. How holy and beloved, how pleasing and lowly, how peaceful, delightful, lovable and desirable above all things it is to have a Brother like this, who laid down his life for his sheep (cf. Jn. 10: 15), and prayed to his Father for us, saying: Holy Father, in your name keep those whom you have given me. Father, all those whom you gave me in the world, were yours and you gave them to me. And the words you have given me, I have given to them. And they have received them and have known truly that I have come forth from you, and they have believed that you have sent me. I am praying for them, not for the world: Bless and sanctify them. And for them I sanctify myself, that they may be sanctified in their unity, just as we are. And, Father, I wish that where I am, they also may be with me, that they may see my splendor in your kingdom (cf. Jn 17: 6-24).
Every creature in heaven and on earth and in the depths of the sea should give God praise and glory and honour and blessing (cf. Ap. 5: 13); he has borne so much for us and has done and will do so much good to us; he is our power and our strength, and he alone is good (cf. Lk. 18:19), he alone most high, he alone all-powerful, wonderful, and glorious; he alone is holy and worthy of all praise and blessing for endless ages and ages. Amen.
All those who refuse to do penance and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are blind, because they cannot see the light, our Lord Jesus Christ. They indulge their vices and sins and follow their evil longings and desires, without a thought for the promises they made. In body they are slaves of the world and of the desires of their lower nature, with all the cares and anxieties of this life; in spirit they are slaves of the devil. They have been led astray by him and have made themselves his children, dedicated to doing his work. They lack spiritual insight because the Son of God does not dwell in them, and it is he who is the true wisdom of the Father. It is of such men as these that Scripture says, their skill was swallowed up (Ps. 106: 27). They can see clearly and are well aware what they are doing; they are fully conscious of the fact that they are doing evil, and knowingly lose their souls.
See, then you who are blind, deceived by your enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, our fallen nature loves to commit sin and hates to serve God; this is because vice and sin come from the heart of man, as the Gospel says. You have no good in this world and nothing to look forward to in the next. You imagine that you will enjoy the worthless pleasures of this life indefinitely, but you are wrong. The day and the hour will come, the day and the hour for which you have no thought and of which you have no knowledge whatever. First sickness, then death, draws near; friends and relatives come and advise the dying man, “Put your affairs in order”. Wife and children, friends and relatives, all pretend to mourn. Looking about, he sees them weeping. An evil inspiration comes to him. Thinking to himself, he says, “Look, I am putting my body and soul and all that I have in your hands”. Certainly a man who would do a thing like that is under a curse, trusting and leaving his body and his soul and all that he has defenseless in such hands. God tells us by his Prophet, Cursed shall he be that puts his trust in man (Jer. 17:5). There and then, they call a priest; he says to the sick man, “Do you want to be absolved from all your sins?”
And the dying man replies, “I do”. “Are you ready then to make restitution as best you can out of your property for all that you have done, all the fraud and deceit you practiced towards your fellow men?” the priest asks him. “No”, he replies. And the priest asks, “Why not?” “Because I have left everything in the hands of my relatives and friends”, is the answer. Then his speech begins to fail and so the unfortunate man dies an unhappy death. We should all realize that no matter where or how a man dies, if he is in the state of mortal sin and does not repent, when he could have done so and did not, the devil tears his soul from his body with such anguish and distress that only a person who has experienced it can appreciate it. All the talent and ability, all the learning and wisdom which he thought his own, are taken away from him, while his relatives and friends bear off his property and share it among themselves. Then they say, “A curse on his soul; he could have made more to leave to us and he did not.” And the worms feast on his body. So he loses both body and soul in this short life and goes to hell, where he will be tormented without end. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In that love which is God (cf. 1 Jn. 4: 16), I, Brother Francis, the least of your servants and worthy only to kiss your feet, beg and implore all those to whom this letter comes to hear these words of our Lord Jesus Christ in a spirit of humility and love, putting them into practice with all gentleness and observing them perfectly. Those who cannot read should have them read to them often and keep them ever before their eyes, by persevering in doing good to the last, because they are spirit and life (Jn. 6:64). Those who fail to do this shall be held to account for it before the judgment-seat of Christ at the last day. And may God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless those who welcome them and grasp them and send copies to others, if they persevere in them to the last (cf. Mt. 10:22).