This past Wednesday afternoon, in the small side chapel of the Old Mission Church, six Franciscan novices received their brown habits and put them on for the first time. It was a simple ceremony, a bit emotional, too, honoring another step on the path of these wonderful men – Troy, Jason, James, Antonio, Michael, and Luis.
As part of the service (called investiture), Father Michael Blastic OFM, a scholar of Franciscan spirituality and a member of the novitiate team, offered the reflection. He spoke about how many times the early biographer of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano, notes the Saint changing clothes during the course of his early conversion. The fine clothes of a merchant’s son were tossed off for soldier’s garb, which were eventually traded in for the hermit’s robe, the accepted religious attire of the day for people devoting their lives to God in prayer.
What’s interesting is that the hermit’s robe apparently didn’t quite do it for Francis, so he set it aside for what became his most famous and eloquent fashion statement, a simple tunic, what poor people wore.
Recounting all of this, Father Michael gently offered that we friars must never allow our brown robes (habits) to keep us from the expression of our unique Gospel identity and our solidarity with the poor of the world, especially in the communities where we serve. With arms out, our habits happen to be shaped like a cross.
It is no coincidence that this Sunday we are being called by Pope Francis to honor the first ever “World Day of the Poor”. In the materials for pastors planning for special liturgies and homilies, the Pope’s Council on the New Evangelization cites the words of Pope Francis as follows: “We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience. However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life.”
As we continue to grow as a center of Franciscan evangelization here at the Mission, these are words to take to heart. All of us are to be clothed in the poor Christ.
Fr. Dan, ofm