By Mgr Anthony Figueiredo
For three days last week I was in Assisi to assist in an event called the Economy of Francesco. It was largely for young people from all over the world, and had originally been scheduled to take place in March. Sadly, the pandemic forced us to reschedule. Pope Francis joined us from Rome through a video link and final message.
In a way, the conference was already taking place in these months. The pandemic, with its many consequences, has not only affected health but also the economy. It has shown us that we are all connected in the world and that no one is wholly self-sufficient. Even the most developed countries are experiencing fragility and anxiety about the future. One little virus is enough to destabilise the world. This pandemic is a great lesson, a great ‘correction’, the opportunity for the real ‘great reset’ of our relationship to God and neighbour.
Assisi provided a propitious setting for the event. The future St Francis was from this city and was a member of a rich merchant’s family. He was a young man with a successful future ahead of him. His soul was filled with ambitions and dreams. He wanted happiness at any cost, seeking it in earthly things. He loved parties and wanted to become a noble. They called him ‘the king of feasts.’
But his heart was not happy. At the age of 25, he realised that true happiness is not found in the material things of this world. Only God can fill the heart. From that moment, his father’s money appeared to him like the golden calf – a source not of freedom, but of chains.
Possessions imprisoned him in a small world, that did not allow him to experience what is truly beautiful and eternal. Above all, he understood that money, used selfishly, dripped with blood: many poor people were left on the margins of society. His conversion occurred when the voice of God brought him among the most marginalised. He embraced the lepers. In that moment, he recounts: “What had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body.” At last, he discovered that the secret of happiness was in loving.
But this was only the first step. The second was a voice that, in the little church of San Damiano, came to him from the crucifix: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which, as you can see, is all falling down.”
Initially, Francis understood that the task given to him by the crucifix was to restore the small, very dilapidated church. Actually, it was a much bigger task: it was to restore in the Church and in the world God’s ‘house’. The Greek word for house is oikos – from which comes the word ‘economy’. The world as it stands in relation to God is called the Divine Economy. The task of Francis was about bringing God’s presence back into this reality.
Following from this second step, listening to the crucifix, came the third: Francis ‘dispossessed’ himself. This occurred in a dramatic historical event: the father, who was already angry with him, became enraged to the point of subjecting him to trial before the bishop of Assisi. If Francis had decided to continue his life choice with the poor, his father threatened to throw him out of the house and despoil him of his inheritance. Francis would become poor, without a family and without money.
And here is the ‘great reset’: Francis, before the father and before Bishop Guido, stripped himself of everything, including his clothes, and stood totally naked. He found a new fatherhood in the arms of the bishop. But, above all, he encountered the paternity of God. His words were: “No longer is Pietro de Bernardone my father,” but “our Father who art in heaven.” From that moment, only God was his father, and all the others became brothers to love. Indeed, even the cosmic elements had become brothers and sisters – brother sun, sister moon …
The Assisi of St Francis offers the soul the challenge of the real ‘great reset’ – ‘Go, and repair my house’ – with the self-giving love of Christ on the Cross at the centre. This is the prophetic value of the initiative desired by Pope Francis – the ‘Economy of Francesco’ – from the town and in the footsteps of the Saint of Assisi. Francis ‘naked’ is the man who stripped himself not only of clothes and external things, but of himself, of his selfishness and, therefore, achieved a freedom that placed him in a new relationship with God and with neighbour.
St Francis shows us today that the real ‘great reset’ begins with self, making space for God to create in us the ‘new man’ in the spirit of the Gospel.
Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo has served in various capacities at the Vatican and as a Spiritual Director for over 20 years. He is a regular guest analyst of Church affairs for media networks throughout the world.
Picture: The Basilica of St Francis in Assisi. Young people from around the world met virtually to talk about the economy and ecology. They had hoped to meet Pope Francis in person at the Basilica, but the coronavirus pandemic made that impossible. (Photo/Paul Haring).