Editor's Reflections: Divine Generosity

Authored by Dr. James Pauley in Issue #3.2 of Catechetical Review

Status message

This is a free online article available for non-subscribers. Start your subscription today!

Riding along quietly, perhaps daydreaming in the warm Umbrian sunshine, Francis suddenly reined his horse to a standstill. He was in shock. There, right in his path, stood a leper.

St. Francis with the Leper

In his novel on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, Felix Timmermans describes what happens next:

Francis felt his hair standing on end from horror. Fear of infection gripped his throat. He quickly gave his horse the spurs and galloped away. He did not dare to look back. His hat fell off, but he paid no attention. Yet as he rode on, he remembered the message of Christ’s gospel: despise all that you formerly desired, and cherish all that you formerly despised.

Then he said to himself, “You actor! You are moved to tears when you read the gospel—but when you meet someone whose suffering is the truest continuation on this earth of our Lord’s Passion, you are so selfish that you run away!”

He felt intensely ashamed of himself. So that was the kind of knight he was! Suddenly he turned his horse around and rode back. The leper was still standing there. His stench nearly made Francis faint. Nevertheless, he dismounted and bowed to this man in whom he saw an image of Jesus Christ in all his sufferings. All concern for his own life had vanished. All he felt was love. And he kissed the man on his cleft lips.[1]

Francis’ encounter with the leper is one of the most provocative and challenging stories from our heroic elder brothers and sisters, the saints. Very early still in his surrender to the love of God, he experienced the demand that divine love gently makes: what the beloved disciple receives must be freely given away.  

We catechists frequently propose intimacy with Christ to our learners, but what are the consequences, the demands, of such divine intimacy? Such a gift is always accompanied by a call to mission.

We have been made for the very highest of activities—to participate, by grace, in divine, self-emptying love. When our finite, limited, sometimes wounded ability to love encounters the love of God, our capacities for self-gift are gradually healed, ennobled, and transfigured. Joined to Christ, the sap of the Vine begins to flow into the branches. Bishop Robert Barron writes, “To have faith is to allow oneself to be overwhelmed by the power of God, to permit the divine energy to reign at all levels of one’s being. As such, it is not primarily a matter of understanding and assenting to propositions as it is surrendering to the God who wants to become incarnate in us.”[2]

The Christian disciple understands that baptism initiates a communion with Christ that is so real, that not only is Christ’s sonship in the Father ours (through adoption), but his mission is also to be personally embraced. Christ Jesus is Priest, Prophet, and King; and so are we by virtue of our very real union with him. As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, “From the fact of their union with Christ the head flows the laity’s right and duty to be apostles. Inserted as they are in the Mystical Body of Christ by baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, it is by the Lord himself that they are assigned to the apostolate…”[3] The true disciple discovers this vocation to radical self-donation and cooperates with the One who is Love, so that the love of God comes to impact all relationships—with family, friends, enemies, and also with those who, like Francis and the leper, we have grown accustomed to ignore.

Pope Francis describes it this way, “The more that you unite yourself to Christ and he becomes the center of your life, the more he leads you out of yourself, leads you from making yourself the center and opens you to others.”[4] Life in Christ, therefore, is distinguished always by these two yearnings: a desire for encounter with God and a longing to express the implications of that divine encounter by generously loving others. These two movements shape the life of the missionary disciple.

Dr. James Pauley is Associate Professor of Theology and Catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is author of Liturgical Catechesis in the 21st Century: A School of Discipleship, being published by Liturgy Training Publications in July 2017 .


[1] The Perfect Joy of St. Francis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998), 35.

[2] Robert Barron, And Now I See: A Theology of Transformation (New York: Crossroad, 1998), 7.

[3] Second Vatican Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem, art. 3.

[4] Francis, Address to Participants in the Pilgrimage of Catechists, International Congress on Catechesis, September 27, 2013.

Art Credit: Mosaic "St. Francis of Assisi and Leper," General Curia of the Order of Friars Minor, photo by Jim McIntoch, Flickr.com and Wikimedia.

This article first appeared on page 5 of the printed edition of this April-June 2017 issue.


This article is from The Sower and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of Maryvale Institute. Contact sower@maryvale.ac.uk

© Catechetical Review 2022

Articles from the Most Recent Issue

Editor's Reflections: Toward a Eucharistic Revival
By Dr. James Pauley
Free The Feast of Corpus Christi last month was a momentous event in the life of the Church in the United States. The celebration of this liturgy begins a Eucharistic revival, a period of historic importance that will culminate in a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in the summer of 2024. The need for “revival” in relation to the Eucharist... Read more
The Spiritual Life: How the Eucharist Catechizes about the Meaning of Life
By Bishop Andrew Cozzens
Free The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is currently undertaking a Eucharistic revival. The idea for it began in 2019 when the bishops decided that we needed to respond to the moment of crisis in belief in the Eucharist in which we find ourselves—not only the discouraging results of the 2019 Pew study that reported that less than 30... Read more
The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist
By Brian Pedraza
Free The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist should be numbered among the most kerygmatic of the Church’s doctrines. Here is where the Son of God, who out of the immensity of his divine love became incarnate, has chosen to dwell amongst his people until the end of time. Here is where divine charity makes itself available to the human heart. Here... Read more


Watch Tutorial Videos

We've put together several quick and easy tutorial videos to show you how to use this website.

Watch Now