More than eight centuries ago, in the dark recesses of a dilapidated and forgotten chapel, St. Francis received the call of our Lord Jesus to his life of service and devotion. From those humble beginnings in the tiny Portiunucula chapel, the work of Christ has reached across the globe to touch the lives of millions. Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of the Portiunucula and remember the call of Christ on St. Francis.
Today the Portiunucula is no longer forgotten, but situated and restored within the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli where millions of pilgrims visit every year. Despite the grandiose beauty of the surrounding cathedral, the simple chapel remains as a reminder of the humble beginnings of the Order. In the same way, in today's Gospel reading, Jesus reminds His followers not to follow Him because of extravagant signs and wonders. While He obeyed the will of the Father through miracles of power, Jesus knew that people would be left hungry if they followed Him for these miracles alone.
Jesus said to them: "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world." When they still demand this miraculous bread, He tells them: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst." Not long after He spoke these words, Jesus drank from the cup, giving Himself to all as the Bread of Life, calling His followers to give their lives at the Cross with equal devotion. It is not hard to imagine that many who sought a sign that day, looking for a miracle of power to prove Jesus was on the "winning" side, fled at the price required at the Cross.
John Michael Talbot says of this feast day: "We must live the Gospel radically like they did in that first community... We live this Gospel way of life- radical contemplative prayer, radical charismatic high praise, radical Gospel living." Just as the simple Portiunucula remains amidst the grandeur of the Basilica as a reminder of humility and suffering, so too does the Eucharist stand within the beauty of the liturgy, calling us to embrace the costly sacrifice of the altar in our lives. St. Francis love for Christ out weighed his desire for self-preservation and glory, embodied so beautifully when he kissed the leper. While we give thanks to the Father for the power and beauty of His Church, we never forget the simple, poor Messiah who loved the poor, embraced the leper and went willingly to the suffer and death of the Cross.
Jamie Arpin-Ricci, with thanks to Franciscan Journey