Oct. 4, 2016: St. Francis of Assisi
MEETING THE LEPER
Francis remembered the first victory of his new heart. All his life long he had panicked when he met a person with leprosy. And then one day on the road below Assisi, he did one of those surprising things that only the power of Jesus’ Spirit could explain. He reached out and touched such a one, the very sight of whom nauseated him. He felt his knees playing tricks on him, and he was afraid he would not make it to the leper standing humbly before him. The odor of rotting flesh attacked his senses as if he were smelling with his eyes and ears as well. Tears began to slide down his cheeks because he thought he wouldn’t be able to do it; and as he began to lose his composure, he had to literally leap at the man before him. Trembling, he threw his arms around the leper’s neck and kissed his cheek.
Then, like the feeling he remembered when he first began to walk, he was happy and confident; he stood erect and calm and loved this man in his arms. He wanted to hold him tighter but that would only be to satisfy himself now; and he was afraid to lose this newfound freedom. He dropped his arms and smiled, and the man’s eyes twinkled back their recognition that Francis had received more than he had given. In the silence of their gazing, neither man dropped his eyes, and Francis marveled that a leper’s eyes were hypnotically beautiful.
THIS NEW DAY
This new day. This song for beginning again. This harmony within me. This weightlessness I feel. Francis still caught glimpses from time to time of that first release, that beginning-anew feeling that filled his whole being the day he kissed the leper. The pent-up frustrations of his whole youth, the self-pity, the agonizing self-doubt and questioning, the moodiness of his illness—all rushed out of his heart as if a great dam had broken; and the backed-up, brackish waters of a lifetime streamed outdoors to be soaked up by the soil and forgotten forever.
That kiss, that reaching out of the lips directed his heart for the first time toward someone worth loving other than himself. He began that day to breathe out more than to breathe in, to turn outward rather than inward, to do rather than think about doing. He had finally found the courage to leap across that deep chasm that separated him from the other, from loving what he feared would demand more of him than he could give.
In keeping his eyes on the leper, in thinking only of this person before him, he forgot himself, he forgot the chasm beneath him, and he ran straight across the void into the arms of love and happiness. And all his life he struggled to preserve that original insight into love and to act it out daily. Love was looking into the eyes of the other; and forgetting the dark void between you and forgetting that no one can walk in a void, you start boldly across, your arms outstretched to give of yourself and to receive of the other.
In his last words to his brothers, his Testament, he said: “When I was in sin, it appeared too bitter to me to see lepers; and the Lord himself led me among them, and that which seemed bitter to me was changed for me into sweetness of soul and body.” It was all there in those words: the walk to the leper was the Journey; what happened to you then was the Dream come true.
-Fr. Murray Bodo OFM, "Francis: The Journey and the Dream"