Mindfulness by its dictionary definition is an awareness. It has often been associated with Buddhist thought, but is becoming more westernized in our times. It was also a part of St Francis of Assisi, the part that brought him in contact with every God-made thing on earth. Today, October 4, is the memorial celebrating one of the Church’s greatest saints, but also provides modern people an opportunity to examine their own connectedness to all things.
In New Mexico, the celebration of St Francis has a special meaning. It was in 1539 that a Franciscan friar, Marcos de Niza, viewed the magnificent panorama of these hills and mesas and advised his superiors of the great possibilities. For a time, the territory was called the Kingdom of St Francis. Today the Cathedral Basilica dedicated to the saint is at the very center of the city that bears his name; the real name of Santa Fe is La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis: The Royal City of the Holy Faith of St Francis of Assisi. With the Franciscans of the Guadalupe Provence still very active in the southwest, the memorial is recalled in the state by those who were influenced by Francis’ call. And in the first year of his papacy, a wider world is being influenced by a loving, understanding, and mindful pope who has chosen the name of Francis I.
Mindfulness is a contemplative lifestyle. It is being in the present and having an awareness of what is going on inside and outside. For a practitioner of mindfulness it is not so much that St Francis preached to a tree full of birds, as it is that they listened to him.
St Francis worked among lepers, the outcasts of his day, and he expected his fellow friars to do the same. The ministry of aid and healing was always at the center of his teaching. One of the stories revealed in The Little Flowers of St Francis, stories about the saint that were gathered by other Franciscans, some as eyewitness accounts, but not published until more than two hundred years after his death, tells of a particularly unruly leper made vile and angry by his suffering. The other friars believed the man possessed by the devil because of his foul-mouthed outbursts and his constant chastisement of those who were trying to serve him. He was even reported to have blasphemed Jesus and His Blessed Mother. The friars had determined that they were no longer able to serve the man and reported it to St Francis, who took up the ministry himself.
Francis had a conversation with the leper, who could not be swayed. He proclaimed the disease to be as if a curse from God. When asked what could be done to relieve his suffering, the man asked to be washed from head to toe to remove the stench that he no longer could bear himself. With witnesses, including friars who poured water over him, the leprosy began to disappear from its victim as Francis scrubbed the sores from the inflicted body. The miraculous event not only cured the leper’s physical suffering but his mental anguish, as well. He repented his sins, and his faith was restored. Sometime later, after the cleansing, the man became ill with another disease, and he died in peace. His spirit is said to have appeared to Francis to give thanks to God and to the friar, and to pass his blessing over the saint, proclaiming that because of him many souls would be saved.
More than anything else, there was Brother Sun and Sister Moon. For Francis, everything was a brother or sister, not just the birds and the bees, but even the rocks. He reminded others of their importance, recalling that Jesus called Peter a ‘Rock,’ and referred to Psalm 61, the plea to be raised up on a rock of refuge. His love and sorrowful feelings for Jesus reached a point that extended to the very extreme of mindfulness. He received the stigmata, the wounds of the Crucified Christ, on a rock at La Verna, where he founded a church.
Thomas of Celano was a contemporary biographer of St Francis of Assisi. He described him as short, pleasant looking, but rather ordinary. Most of all, he described a man of humility, gentleness, and compassion, who could speak well and convincingly, and could adapt to all situations and people. Francis told his fellows to announce peace to everyone and preach repentance through Christ. He guided their parousia: to be patient, watchful, and steadfast, to speak modestly and to be responsible in action. He instructed them to be prayerful and virtuous, to be grateful for every gift. He was Brother Francis to all things and always mindful of them.