Nick Saban is the very successful football coach at the University of Alabama. He is also a devoted Catholic and regularly attends Mass at the St. Francis of Assisi University Parish. Three years ago the parish built a new building to be used in reaching out to and serving University of Alabama students. The new building was named the Saban Catholic Student Center. On the church’s website it says the Sabans’ “financial support and fundraising made the $2 million project possible.”
Saban’s Catholic faith appears to be quite sincere. It’s great that he cares about the spiritual life of students. There is something ironic, however, that a church named after St. Francis of Assisi names a building after somebody because of how much money they gave and raised.
Francis lived in Italy in the 1200s. His father was a wealthy businessman. It was an era when pursuing money was becoming a primary goal of many people. People were buying costly things, especially clothes to show off their status and wealth.
Francis lived with that materialistic mindset, until he was converted to Christ and felt Jesus calling him to rebuild His church. Francis thought at first the call was simply to rebuild the sanctuary of the local church, which had fallen into disrepair and neglect. He used some of his father’s money to pay for the repairs. When his father found out he was quite upset and thought Francis was crazy to waste money like that. He had his son put in prison, hoping that might straighten out his thinking.
Francis realized he shouldn’t have taken his father’s money without asking. He resolved to forsake all claims to his father’s wealth and his inheritance. In a dramatic courtroom scene, Francis took off all his clothes – the sign of wealth in that society – and returned them and all the money he had to his father. For the rest of his life Francis pursued Christ and service rather than wealth.
It wasn’t only his father who thought Francis was crazy. Throughout the centuries many people have looked at him as being eccentric. Somebody who said life wasn’t found in how much you have, and who lived that out, seemed strange then and seems strange now. We name buildings after ones who can raise $2 million. We get confused by ones who have little interest in acquiring wealth, but choose to be poor, humble servants.
The most confusing one is Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:9). Jesus willingly became poor, so that we can find the true riches of His love. That kind of grace is confusing because it is so different from our selfish old nature and such a contrast from the materialistic world around us. But that grace is amazing, freeing, enriching and life-giving to those who receive it.