As Christmas reading, I would like you to read the encyclical Auspicato. Note that it is addressed “To all the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, and Bishops of the Catholic World” and that they are asked not only to “celebrate” the memory of St Francis, but especially to encourage everyone to “imitate” the Saint. The Pope is very clear: not only is Auspicato a “public testimony” of his own devotion to St Francis, more importantly, it is an urgent call to use the Third Order as a remedy for the restoration of Christian civilization. (Par 1-9).
Why does Pope Leo XIII choose St Francis for this task? Because God chose him first. The Pope writes: “When the evils We have spoken of arise, as soon as the providentially appointed hour of help has struck, God raises up a man, not one of the common herd, but eminent and unique, to whom He assigns the salvation of all…. St Francis was the agent of this great work” (Par 7).
The Pope then says how St Francis went about this “great work”. He writes: “…with wondrous resolution and simplicity [St Francis] undertook to place before the eyes of the aging world, in his words and deeds, the complete model of Christian perfection” (Par 9).
Note that the Saint went about this work with “resolution” and “simplicity”. In other words, he worked with a firm determination and with everyday simplicity, and, most importantly, he worked! He was no slouch!
Also note that the Pope refers to the 12th century as the “aging world”. What would he say of our own century?
No doubt he would say today what he said to his contemporaries in 1882: Go and work! The horrors of the great Revolutions of the 18th and the 19th centuries and their destruction of Christendom did by no means render him helpless and paralyzed. On the contrary, the martyrdom of thousands of Catholics (many were Tertiaries) spurred him to action and, specifically, to the restoration of the Third Order. He understood the great damage done to the Church, and this is precisely why he urged the high clergy to restore and to promote the Third Order. He writes: “Therefore take pains that the people may become acquainted with the Third Order and truly esteem it; provide that those who have the cure of souls sedulously teach what it is, how easily anyone may enter it, with how great privileges tending to salvation it abounds, what advantages, public and private, it promises; and in so doing all the more pains are to be taken because the Franciscans of the First and Second Order, having been struck recently with a heavy blow, are in a most piteous condition” (Par 25).
What would the Pope say today when the entire Conciliar Sect has temporarily overshadowed the Church of All Time and destroyed all religious Orders? Would he wring his hands and give up? No! He would pray “…that Christian people may rend towards the discipline of the Third Order with the same alacrity and the same numbers as formerly from all parts they threw themselves into the arms of St Francis himself with a holy emulation” (Par 25).
The Pope insists that we have a clear understanding of what is meant by “the complete model of Christian perfection”. It is primarily that of Penance. We are called to imitate the Crucified One by living a rule of penitential simplicity: “For its rules consist only in obedience to God and His Church, to avoid factions and quarrels, and in no way to defraud our neighbour; to take up arms only for the defence of religion and of one’s country; to be moderate in food and in clothing, to shun luxury, and to abstain from the dangerous seductions of dances and plays” (Par 20).
Following this simple and penitential rule would have a positive effect on the society, as the Pope explains: “And thus domestic peace, incorrupt morality, gentleness of behaviour, the legitimate use and preservation of private wealth, civilization and social stability, spring as from a root from the Franciscan Third Order; and it is in great measure to St Francis that Europe owes their preservation” (Par 21).
The Pope concludes his address by appealing to all people: “…it has been long and specially Our desire that everyone should, to the utmost of his power, aim at imitating St Francis of Assisi.” And he reiterates with force: “We exhort Christian men not to refuse to enroll themselves in this sacred army of Jesus Christ” (Par 25).
And because God is never outdone in generosity, and if we respond generously to His call, the Pope assures us that the “world would be brought to see itself led back from disorder to peace, from destruction to safety, by the favour of the Saint of Assisi” (Par 26).
May you have a blessed Christmas!
Pax et Bonum
Sr Constance TOSF