Francis understood Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper at a very deep level. He did not need encouragement to be a servant leader; no other way of leading would have made sense to him. Not everyone in the brotherhood came to that conclusion as quickly as he did, but he patiently led them to accept the Lord’s style of servant leadership.
Before he got off his horse one day and embraced a leper as a brother in Christ, Saint Francis probably had thrown a few coins to lepers from a very safe distance. Bonaventure later wrote that Francis’s service to God began with a victory over himself. In fact, this incident helped Francis to see that what he had previously regarded as very bitter was, in fact, truly sweet.
Francis did not need the assurance of success in order to throw himself into service. During the year that he was a prisoner of war in Perugia, Francis decided to reach out to an embittered man shunned by his fellow prisoners.
As Francis’s conversion went deeper and wider, he had fewer things (physical or otherwise) that needed to be protected. This made him increasingly open to the needs of other people. When and where he could help, he always did so. Regardless of his resources at any given moment, Francis could always treat those in need as people created and loved by God. Most people do not feel threatened by someone who lives God’s truth at a very deep level; that’s why most men and women felt comfortable around Francis. His humility and simplicity led quickly to generous service. Early on, Francis resolved never to refuse what he could offer if someone asked for help “for the love of God.”
The healings and other miracles that Francis worked during his lifetime were never done to enhance his status; they were simply part of being a servant leader. If other people were tempted to measure Francis’s actions by some other yardstick, he gently but effectively helped them understand his true motivation.
At times, Francis acted as a servant leader to people who were rich or politically very powerful. He was not afraid to call them to conversion as well, to confess their sins, to serve Christ among people who lacked life’s most basic necessities. Many rich and powerful people were converted to the Lord’s ways by Francis’s humble service on behalf of poor people. When the bishop of Assisi and its mayor were in a very bitter dispute, Francis invited them to a meeting and sent two friars to sing about the need to forgive.
When a peasant once cautioned Francis to be as good as people said he was, Francis could easily have taken offense at these words. Instead, he was genuinely grateful for this reminder.
Growing with Francis
Do I see love, patience, humility, poverty, contemplation, fear of God, mercy, and prudence as desirable? Am I tempted to think they are ways that losers console themselves for losing? Be extra patient with one person today, beginning with yourself, not because doing so might change them but because that decision will point you in a better direction.
Living as Francis Did
Peace is a work of justice; it does not come about by a display of superior strength or military might. In fact, it can be argued that those who “live among social outcasts, among the poor and helpless, the sick and the lepers, and those who beg by the wayside” most truly effect the cause of peace and justice by changing society at its very roots: its people.