St. Francis of Assisi (and countless other “least of the least” like him through the centuries) have been like “the Lunar Module of Apollo 13” that kept the Church Universal alive while the rich and powerful failed her.
The Twenty-First Century is not the first time that the light seemed to have departed from the Church Universal. (see my blog “The Way of Jesus: The Nones”).
St. Francis of Assisi found himself in a similar time of darkness and despair.
In my book Visions of the Church, I use the troubled—yet ultimately triumphant—voyage of Apollo 13 as a narrative thread to illuminate the high points (and the low points) of the first 2,000 years of the history of the Church Universal.
As you may recall, the Service Module of Apollo 13 blew up on the way to the Moon. Any person or church is in deep trouble if its “Service Module” blows up.
And so I wrote in my book first published in 2004:
The Service Module was dying. Without the electricity from the Service Module, the Command Module could not function. The astronauts would die.
Without the rocket engine from the Service Module, the Command Module was on a course that would never return to earth. The astronauts would die.
Only one small hope remained.
Flee to the Lunar Module!
Use its electricity and oxygen to stay alive during the trip [around the moon and back] to earth. Use the rocket on the Lunar Module to get the astronauts on a course towards earth. And hope that enough power remained in the batteries in the Command Module so that the astronauts could restart the Command Module at the critical moment just before they reentered earth’s atmosphere.
Only the strength of the Command Module could survive the fiery plunge through earth’s atmosphere that would come at the end of the voyage. The paper-thin walls of the Lunar Module could not survive the heat and stress from such a fiery trial.
No wonder that the TV anchorman gave the astronauts only a 10 percent chance of reaching home alive.
But desperate times demand desperate measures. So the astronauts turned off the Command Module and crammed themselves into the Lunar Module. While back home, people despaired and prayed.
St. Francis of Assisi
In 1204, Christians should have despaired and prayed.
In the struggle to prove who was “The Greatest,” the army of the Western Christians fought the army of the Eastern Christians [at Constantinople]. The Western Christians “won,” sacking the city, plundering its ancient wealth, and smashing its incomparable beauty.
Fortunately, the prayers of the Christians for a future full of faith, hope, and love began to be answered around 1205 when a young man in Italy decided to become the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.
He renounced all the wealth and lusts of the world. Living in absolute poverty, begging for his food, he traveled from place to place, preaching the Good News about Jesus Christ.
This “least of the least” is known to us as St. Francis of Assisi.
St. Francis of Assisi, and countless others like him through the centuries, have been the “Lunar Module” of the Church that kept the Church alive while the rich and powerful failed her.
By becoming “The Least” in the Kingdom of Heaven, they actually became “The Greatest”.
With the Service Module and the Command Module of the spacecraft crippled, the Lunar Module seemed hopelessly unequal to the task that lay ahead.
Its walls were aluminum foil. It was only big enough for two people. Now it would have to keep three people alive.
It was designed to land on the moon. Now it would have to journey between the moon and the earth.
Similarly, it would seem impossible that lowly St. Francis of Assisi, who lived in extreme poverty, could be far greater than entire armies dying in battle.
But what is impossible for humans is possible with God. Indeed, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
This is why the Old Testament prophet wrote, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).’”
And so God chose the weakness of St. Francis of Assisi instead of the strength of armies to spread his Kingdom on this earth—his Church.
Because God’s “strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, KJV).
That is also why God chose the weakest of the weak—a young mother, Mary, and her tiny baby, Jesus—to bring joy and peace to Humanity.
Armies of Christians fighting with swords at Constantinople almost destroyed the Church. Meanwhile, St. Francis of Assisi’s “tiny” acts of kindness infused the Church with new life.
That is why there is a “kingdom prepared . . . since the creation of the world” for those who give a hungry person something to eat, who give a thirsty person something to drink, who give shelter to a stranger, who give clothes to a needy person, who visit a prisoner (Matthew 25:34-36) or who in some other way serve and honor God.
We need to go and do likewise.
In this Way of Jesus (and of St. Francis of Assisi), we can overcome the immense harms to Humanity and the Church in the Twenty-First Century from worries, the deceitfulness of wealth, the Power of Money, the Power of Religion, and the Power of the Kingdoms of the World. (See my blog “Jesus Climbs the Temple Mount” and related blogs referenced in my blog “The Way of Jesus: The Nones”.)
QUESTIONS TO THINK ABOUT
Why does God choose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise?
Why does God choose the weak things of the world to shame the world?
Who do you think is more influential? The United States military? Or people who follow the Way of Jesus in the Way of the Wisdom That Follows the Way of the LORD, including people who give a hungry person something to eat, who give a thirsty person something to drink, who give shelter to strangers, who give clothes to a needy person, and who visit prisoners? Why?
Please read my other blogs related to the Way of Jesus (and the blogs referenced by them): “The Way of Jesus: The Nones” and “The Way of Jesus: Following the Way of the Wisdom That Follows the Way of the LORD”.