Freedom to serve


St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most well-known and beloved saints of the church. Today, a familiar aspect of his saintly life was his love for creation that reveals the beauty and power of God. His Canticle of the Creatures is a moving, poetic hymn of praise to God through all of creation — the sun, the moon, stars, wind, air, water, fire, flowers and fruit. Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’,” On Care of Our Common Home, begins with the words of St. Francis’ canticle of praise to God for creation.

In his own day, St. Francis was also admired and imitated for another saintly quality that is evoked in today’s Gospel — his radical poverty. For his example of detachment from material possessions he is also affectionately called “il Poverello” of Assisi, his birthplace.

St. Francis was born into a wealthy family and was known to enjoy the blessings of his family’s material possessions. But he gradually grew disillusioned with the passing pleasures of earthly things as he searched for God. Eventually, he renounced his inheritance and chose a life of radical poverty to be free to serve God alone.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls the Twelve and begins to send them out two by two. This is a pivotal moment in the disciples’ life as their life with Jesus is transformed into their vocation. It is the moment when the disciples become apostles, those sent by Jesus to extend his ministry of teaching, healing and service. To be free to serve the Lord would require detachment from the world.

As Jesus sends his disciples out he gives them instructions that are worth reflecting on as we ponder the word of God today. Jesus tells his disciples to take nothing for the journey, except a walking stick and sandals. They were to take no food, no sack, no money and not even a second tunic!

Jesus’ words must have surprised his disciples. To take nothing on a journey is counterintuitive. But the radical poverty that Jesus asks of his disciples makes sense only in light of the great mission that he is calling them to.

To serve the Lord as his missionary disciple requires complete dependence on God. It calls forth trust that God alone is the one who provides for the journey. Rather than being concerned with and distracted by the cares and demands that come with material possessions, a disciple of Jesus fixes his gaze on the mission of sharing the life-giving message of faith, healing and love with those in physical and spiritual need.

St. Francis and many other saints show it is possible to live in radical poverty for God. Each one of us is called, like the disciples, to detachment so we can be Jesus’ missionary disciples who pray in faith, “speak to me, Lord.”