Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
St. Francis of Assisi has been quoted as saying, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” It’s a roadmap to achieving amazing things but it begins in absolute simplicity. It makes sense that a saint who once renewed the Church by embracing poverty should come up with such an axiom because his life story demonstrates how all things are possible through simple acts of humility.
In one famous story, Francis was exploring the countryside around Assisi when he came upon the crumbling church of San Damiano, where he entered and knelt down in prayer, asking God for guidance. It was then Francis heard the voice of God respond, saying, “Francis, go and rebuild my church.” Francis proceeded to repair San Damiano, along with a few other churches near Assisi. It wasn’t until later that he realized a deeper meaning to the words God had spoken to him. He realized God was calling him to renew people’s faith in Christ and to actually restore Catholicism.
What an amazing arch this turned out to be in the life of St. Francis, to go from feeling called to the humble work of a laborer to leading a spiritual renewal in the Church. It’s an arch that demonstrates his axiom that, when we start with what is necessary and then do all that is possible, we will eventually find ourselves accomplishing the impossible. There are two key elements at play in this axiom. The first is found in the power of fortitude and hard work, and the second is the realization that God has a grander plan for us than we could possibly know.
It is freeing to abandon our cares to God and focus on the necessary tasks that have been put before us. And when we take up our daily cross and do all that is asked of us, we find ourselves growing in talent and expanding our ability to persevere through a myriad of trials. The reality is, God wants us to be prepared for larger trials so that we are capable of taking on greater tasks. But that does not mean we have to plan what those greater things will be. It is enough for us to do the hard work given to us and simply grow in our gifts and abilities.
God also challenges us to know that, even in doing the work of today, our spiritual lives are more important than any material reward. In his Sermon on the Mount, Christ reminds us of the lilies of the field and how well they are clothed without any effort of their own. We are to set about our daily work with the same abandon to the providence of God. This is the example St. Francis set for us when he abandoned the material wealth he was born into as the son of a successful merchant.
In one of the most dramatic scenes from his life, St. Francis stripped off the fine clothes his father had given him and walked off with utter abandon to follow God’s will. His renunciation of the material in favor of the spiritual was so inspiring it brought many followers to work alongside him in following Christ and caring for the poor. And this simplicity led them to renew the Church. We are called to effect the same renewal by applying ourselves to the tasks set before us and the good we are called to accomplish each day.
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