We may have received Easter a little early this year when the cardinal who chose the name “Francis” ascended to the Chair of Peter. The Catholic imagination runs wild.
Here’s a good Easter question: Who is your favorite saint? The answer might open up a life-changing conversation about the power of deaths and risings.
One of the most revealing things I learned early on about my husband Ben is that Francis Xavier is his favorite saint. Why? Because he was, in many things, a dismal failure. True, he was one of the founders of the Jesuits. He traveled to and lived in Asia all of his religious life. He even baptized the occasional convert there, but his religion, based in the faith of a crucified God, made most of the native peoples uncomfortable. He took heart, though, in his upcoming voyage to China. There, he would make converts. But he died of a fever while waiting for a boat to take him to the mainland.
Oh, and the initial vow that those first Jesuits made, along with poverty, chastity and obedience? They would convert the Muslims in the Middle East. We see how that worked out.
In taking the name “Francis”, then, our new pope invoked the faithfulness-in-the-face-of-failure of Francis Xavier. Ben loves him because he, too, has struggled against the tide in striving to really live the gospel. He’s failed many times in his heroic attempts to enlist others in causes he feels are vital. St. Francis Xavier is his model and friend. They both “failed up”, which is a beautiful term to describe the grace and gifts that rise from “failure”.
So, in taking the beloved name of Francis the Holy Father has invoked the perseverance of Francis Xavier, as well as the humility and reform imaged by the little man of Assisi. And don’t forget St. Frances Cabrini’s warm love of the children of the poor, or the gentle, humorous bishop of Geneva, St. Francis de Sales. Pope Francis has brought each of these beloved saints into our consciousness once again.
We need a little Easter, right this very minute. May the stone of bitterness and betrayal be rolled away, and may Christ our Light illumine a new dawn. St. Francis, pray for us.
Who do you know whose name is a derivative of Francis?
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I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).