When you look at the life of St. Francis, there is hardly anything remarkable to behold. In almost every way, he was an ordinary man. Compared to other saints, I cannot think of a single superlative that we could add to his name that wouldn’t fit better with a handful of others.

At yet, his life has captured the hearts of millions. The effect that he (and his order) have had on the world is incalculable. People revere him as the greatest of saints, and I have to wonder: why?

On the eve of his feast day, I offer my own take on why I believe him to be the greatest of saints.

What does it mean to think like a Franciscan? When people imagine our spirituality, I imagine many picture a tree-hugging hippie communing with nature, a jovial cartoon character with a big belly, or a humble beggar with tattered clothes. And there’s certainly some truth to all of these images! (Stereotypes exist for a reason…)

Unfortunately, what often gets lost in these caricatures is the fact that Franciscans were masters of theology in the Middle Ages. While many will think of St. Thomas Aquinas as the foremost theologian of Church history, the fact of the matter is that his popularity grew long after his death (after, of course, he his writings were suppressed and then reinstated…) As strange as it might sound today, it was actually the Franciscans that held the greatest and widest influence in scholastic thought for many centuries.

I guess some really do peak early.

With the rise of Thomism in the late Middle Ages, and the subsequent crowning of Thomas as the primary theologian of the Church after Trent and Vatican I, Franciscan thought took a backseat and was often forgotten by serious theologians. This was a great tragedy, and today some are beginning to rediscover the treasure that is the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition.

The problem, as so many understand, is that our Tradition is not a school with uniform principles of study. There is no such thing as a “Franciscan” way of studying or thinking. Unlike the Dominicans or Jesuits that have very clearly defined modes of theology, the Franciscans tend to be very experiential and personal, meaning that naming it is about as allusive as catching an electron: we know it’s there, and it’s certainly important, but there is just no way of fitting it neatly into a box.

Instead, as I have tried to capture in this video, there are broad categories of inquiry that Franciscans tend to focus on, and contributions made by specific Franciscans. None of them are universally held by every Franciscan, but they offer a starting point that may help us understand a different way of thinking in our Church.

One of the most common things I hear from non-Christians is that “Jesus never claimed to be God.” While people like Peter and Paul professed his divinity and later councils defined what that meant, Jesus never speaks of himself as God. Taken with the fact that Jesus always defers to the Father, and, at times, even admonishes the disciples for giving him too much credit, it’s easy to see why some would question his identity.

That is, if all they ever knew of the Bible were a few random passages that supported their opinion.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus does claim to be God and does expect worship all throughout the Gospels. He may not say those words explicitly, but when you know where to look and if you do a little digging, there is more than enough evidence to show that he knew himself to be God.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times: truth without charity is not truth.

Those who follow me on Twitter know that I get my fair share of inappropriate comments and “hate mail.” On a regular basis, I am called names, sent graphic messages, have my priesthood questioned, and witness my family, friends, or brothers attacked. It is discouraging to say the least.

Especially when you consider that 99% of it comes from fellow Christians, the majority from fellow Catholics.

To be honest, these sorts of comments rarely have a personal effect on me. I understand what I’m dealing with online, that there is plenty of anger and mental illness in our world, and so I can usually ignore it fairly easily. I have learned to utilize the “block” and “mute” features of social media quiet liberally…

But that doesn’t mean that I remain entirely unaffected by the constant stream of hatred. While not hurtful personally, I am often distraught by the effect that people’s words can have on others; I look at the comments towards me, said by Christians, as undermining the wonderful work of evangelization happening in our Church. Why would anyone join a Church where its people talk to each other in this way? It saddens me to see that Christians on the internet act no differently from the rest of the world, that they may, in fact, act worse because of their supposed righteous anger.

This is not good. And it needs to stop.

What I have presented here is an open letter to all Christians. I hope that you may share it with anyone you know who acts rudely or violently online, that it may be a wake-up call to all of us: the world is watching. What do they see when Christians speak to one another? What do they think of Christianity?

I tell you, people will rarely remember what you say to them, but they will never forget how you made them feel. If we are to be evangelizers of Jesus Christ, it doesn’t just matter what we say. How we say it is equally important.

Peace and good to you all.

Throughout history, there have been moments that radically changed the way the world operated. The fall of Rome. Columbus landing in the “new world.” The French Revolution. How could the world be the same ever again?

I believe that we are living in such a moment in our Church: looking back 2000 years from now, historians will see the Second Vatican Council as one of the two or three most significant events in Church history, radically redefining life in the Church.

Why, do you ask? Because it was at that moment that the Church truly adopted a global mindset.

But the Church has always been global, you say. We’ve always been the “universal” Church, present around the world in many cultures in just the first few centuries. I think it’s hard for people to understand what I’m getting at here. I think this because I have had ten hours to read comments since this video was released, and I can see it clearly. Many people argue that there is no need for change, that the Church has always been global, that the Church does not need other cultures because it is above culture.

These opinions are very naive, if not borderline racist. The idea that the Church does not have a culture is just absurd.

It is true that the Church existed in many countries, but it is incorrect to assume that this made us a global Church. More accurately, we were a Roman Church inserted into other countries. The culture, worldview, theology, and of course, language, were all of a particular people. To be a Catholic in Asia, Africa, or Latin America prior to 1965 meant not only accepting Jesus Christ as your savior and the pope as the leader of the Church, but also accepting Latin as your language and Europeans as your law givers. Like so many things, the dominant culture was blind to the fact that it was even a culture because it failed to acknowledge that any others even existed or had anything worthy to offer. Everyone just assumed that the way Rome did things was normal.

As more and more bishops and cardinals from non-European countries have taken up leadership and raised their voices, the more we’ve seen how particular our Church existed for many years, and how important it is to have better global representation.

I truly believe that we are in one of the most prosperous times in the history of our Church. It is an exciting time to live. And that might sound strange to you given the issues we face. But that’s precisely my point: which issues? Closing churches, lack of faith, problems with secularism, scandals, low vocations? These are issues that Europe and North America are facing, not Asia, Africa, and South America. Too often our worldview gets too small and we think that we we experience is what everyone experiences. It is only with added voices and better representation that we get the whole picture.

If you find the Church’s outlook to be bleak, it might be time to broaden your view. The Church is changing, and I can’t wait to see how it grows.