Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb and worshiped a molten image; And so they exchanged their Glory for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.
- Psalm 106:19-20
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.
- 1 Corinthians 10:14
When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way.
- Matthew 8:28
In today's readings we are confronted with the pervasive power of evil that threatens to oppress us on every side. Even for a Christian who generally walks in the light of God's presence, often darkness creeps in and steals our joy and leaves us in states of despondency and confusion. Before we know it, we're back in the grip of our idols and petty sins and the peace of God seems only a fleeting hope and transient possibility. The Christian story is marked by the roller coaster ride of sin and repentance, closeness to God and then separation...and so the pendulum swings...back and forth, back and forth.
Is there any hope to get beyond this spiritual schizophrenia?
I'm afraid, in this human body, probably not entirely. But I do believe that God is here with the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us into greater victory over the powers of darkness that seems to so tenaciously have a hold on us. God's grace is that amazing!
One of the most powerful sources of that grace, for me, has been in the witness of the saints, and there is one saint in particular that has seemed to inspire generations of Christians to know the freedom and peace of God's kingdom more than most others...and that saint, of course, is St. Francis of Assisi. If the definition of a saint is one whose life is conformed to Christ, St. Francis may surely be the greatest of them all. What we encounter in St. Francis is one who has been so pervasively transformed by the love of Christ, that we see what might be possible with our own.
St. Francis was just like all of us, driven by ego (he wanted to be a great knight), repulsed by the outcast (he famously was disgusted by lepers) and materialistic (he delighted in fine clothes). But his encounter with Christ quite suddenly caused him to reevaluate his life and communicated to him the grace to change. He now was driven by service to others, embracing the outcast, and stripping himself, quite literally, of the clothes off of his back.
The reason why St. Francis of Assisi never fails to inspire is because in him we encounter the glory of God with such little obstruction. In him, the pure effusion of divinity shines forth in a miraculous way. In him, the face of Christ is revealed for all to see and the glory that the human person once exchanged for a fake imitation is once again restored.
Let us, then, today look to St. Francis and encounter the face of Christ and see how Christlike a human life can be...and receive the sure hope that freedom from the grip of sin is possible.