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Living the ideals of St. Francis today

Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi who died Oct. 4, 1226. The feast day of a saint is traditionally the date of that saint's death, the beginning of life eternal.

Even in a natural sense, the life of St. Francis has never ended. His life and his ideals continue to inspire each new generation. He is a popular saint even beyond Christianity, admired by believers and non-believers of every culture.

When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope on March 13, he awakened a renewed interest in St. Francis of Assisi by choosing the name "Francis."

He is the first in a line of 266 popes to choose that name, a hint that he would be a pope of many "firsts."

After his election, he explained why he chose Francis as his pontifical name.

When votes for him reached the required two-thirds majority, a fellow cardinal leaned over and told him, "Don't forget the poor."

"Right away, I thought of St. Francis of Assisi and his regard for the poor," said the new pope. "Then I thought of war. Francis loved peace. I also thought of St. Francis of Assisi's concern for the natural environment and how he was a poor man, a simple man, who would like a poor church, for the poor. And that is how the name came to me."

Poverty, peace and ecology. Those three motives for the selection of his name capture well the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi and his enduring message.

Franciscan concern for the poor means living simply so others simply may live. It means avoiding the lure of consumerism, so one's blessings can be shared more generously with those in need.

This ideal was expressed indelibly by St. Philip Neri who said, "The second coat in your closet does not belong to you. It belongs to the child who has none."

It is not wrong to have two coats. But if your neighbor is in need, sharing is not charity, it is justice.

St. Francs grew up amid warfare between the communities around Assisi. The ideal of his youth was a knight in shining armor. But he soon saw the futility of war and devoted his life to spreading peace.

The Peace Prayer of St. Francis might be second only to the Lord's Prayer in popularity.

The best-selling garden ornament in our secular culture is a statue of St. Francis, the patron saint of ecology. His vision of creation, which is sung in his Canticle of the Sun, is a reminder that we are related to all of creation as brothers and sisters. What we do to nature we are doing to ourselves, to everyone.

Poverty, peace and ecology. These ideals of St. Francis, adopted by Pope Francis, are not abstract piety. They are the challenges of daily life for those who still can be inspired by he Poverello, the little poor man of Assisi.

Father Earl Meyer is from St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria.