“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” (1 Corinthians 11:23)
St. Francis was absolutely devoted to the Eucharist. It’s one of the reasons he was so concerned about rebuilding and cleaning local churches, making them suitable homes for the Eucharist. Thomas of Celano tells us that concerned citizens brought St. Francis to their parish priest who was living in sin; they wanted the saint to reprimand him and condemn his sinful way of life. Instead, St. Francis knelt, took the priest’s hands and said, “I know not whether this priest is sinful. I only know that these hands, and these hands alone, make present upon the altar my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Francis’s respect for the clergy was based on the priest’s power to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, “in whom all things in heaven and on earth are made peaceful and are reconciled to God the Almighty.” The Church of his day was no stranger to scandal and corruption. He reminds us that there’s more to the Church than the human institution, that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church throughout history, even when all appearances seem to the contrary.
Today’s Gospel account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet offers an antitdote to the problems our human Church encounters. Francis takes this to heart in his Admonitions when he says:
I did not come to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28), our Lord tells us. Those who are put in charge of others should be no prouder of their office than if they had been appointed to wash the feet of their confreres. They should be no more upset at the loss of their authority than they would be if they were deprived of the task of washing feet. The more they are upset, the greater the risk they incur to their souls.
—from the book Lent with St. Francis: Daily Reflections,
by Diane M. Houdek