October 4th marks the Memorial of St Francis of Assisi in the liturgical year of the Roman Catholic Church. On that day, we remember St Francis’ example of holiness as he struggled to become a sign and witness of Christ’s love and mercy in the world.
When most people think about St Francis, they usually will consider his poverty of life, or his love and appreciation for the grandeur and beauty of creation.
Or perhaps they know of Francis’ efforts to bring attention to Christ’s humility in the Incarnation which resulted in the now familiar Nativity scene, or in his encouragement of the devotion of the the Stations of the Cross that came from his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land (in fact, Francis so impressed the great Sultan, Sulieman, that Franciscans were made–are still are–custodians of sites in the Holy Land).
While all these things are fundamental aspects of what is now known as the Franciscan way of life (which has subsequently inspired thousands over the centuries), many are unaware of Francis’ great love for Our Lady, the Blessed Mother, Mary.
Francis was devoted to Our Lady, and as he would journey from place to place, he would pray the rosary. In fact, part of the Franciscan “habit” includes the wearing of a rosary.
So how does all this connect to Our Lady of America?
Through the vows that are taken by all those who profess the Franciscan way of life–vows to pursue the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.
To practice poverty, it is necessary to be poor in spirit. This means to realize that nothing we have is worth more than the kingdom of God. It does not mean we despise God’s blessings, but rather it is a condition of the heart that permits us to be detached from any worldly thing that prevents us from pursuing the Kingdom of God first and foremost in our lives.
Chastity is a commitment to purity and fidelity regardless of your state of life, whether married, single, or consecrated.
Obedience is a commitment to listen to God through meditation upon Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church. Through obedience we indicate a preference for the common good over personal desire.
In all three of the evangelical counsels, Francis provides us an excellent model, but it is the example of Our Lady who provides the example par excellence, and this is where the message of Our Lady of America is so very important.
For those of you not familiar with the apparitions of Our Lady of America, she began to appear to Sister Mary Ephrem, CPpS, on September 25, 1956 in northern Indiana.
In her messages to Sister Mary Ephrem, the Blessed Mother’s primary message was:
“I am Our Lady of America. I desire that my children honor Me, especially by the purity of their lives.”
(If you are interested in a more detailed description of the messages associated with Our Lady of America, you can check out this article.)
If you consider the fact that Our Lady began appearing in 1956 and she focused upon purity of the hearts and minds of those in America just prior to the advent of the “Sexual Revolution” where you saw magazines like Playboy and Hustler becoming an unfortunate part of American society and now, 50 years later that has transitioned into the massive scourge of pornography in our culture, you can definitely see the hand of God at work through His sending of Our Blessed Mother to care for His children.
So, too, one can see the hand of God at work when He raised up St Francis of Assisi in the 1200s to help “rebuild His Church” by communicating that nothing is more important than communicating God’s love and the building up of His kingdom through poverty, chastity and obedience.
May the example of St Francis and the messages of Our Lady of America inspire us to become ever more faithful witnesses of God’s love in a world that so desperately needs it.
St Francis of Assisi, pray for us.
Our Lady of America, intercede for us!