I'm not sure how many of you are Star Trek fans, but the plot of one of the many movies jumped out at me early Tuesday morning, as I wondered what to preach about. Remember Star Trek: First Contact, when the crew goes back in time (I know, they always go back in time) to make sure the Borg don't prevent Zephram Cochrane from making the first contact with a passing Vulcan ship?
Geek diversion: In the Star Trek world, Cochrane's experimental Warp Drive flight catches the attention of a passing ship of Vulcans, convincing them that humans are not so primitive and are ready to find out that they're not alone in the universe. The Vulcans make the historic "first contact" with human beings.
Going back in time to stop the Borg from preventing First Contact, the Enterprise crew meet Zephram Cochrane, the man they grew up knowing as this almost mythical, legendary figure. In the future, there are monuments to him, high schools named after him, his theories are required courses in Starfleet Academy, and the place where his rocket took off has become a National Park and historic site. But when they meet him, he's not the larger than life-pioneer-scientist they expected him to be. He's a slob. He drinks too much. He flirts with the girls. He likes Roy Orbison music. He burps and makes other bodily noises. When they tell him the truth about their mission there, he tries to run away. It's all too much for him to comprehend. He tries telling them, "I'm not a statue, I'm just a man!"
What would St. Francis say to us, if we all went back in time to meet him? Certainly we'd all want to touch him, shake his hand, whip out our iPhones and snap a photo with him (preferably with a bird on his shoulders). Maybe we'd tell him how his little Porziuncola is now surrounded by a mammoth Basilica. Maybe we'd thank him for Nativity Scenes and "Make me a channel of your peace..." (Though he'd look at us funny, since he didn't write it). Perhaps Francis would laugh, thinking we're joking. He, too, might run away from all the attention, all this being too much for him to comprehend. He, too, might say, I'm not a statue (or a stained glass window); I'm just a man."
Maybe we've made St. Francis "larger than life", too. Maybe we've made him so out of our league when it comes to works and holiness that we can't even imagine genuine imitation of him. Being so far out of our range makes him "safe", we all agree he's too unreachable so we all agree not to try. Maybe we forget that the Saints were human beings like us, given the same graces, having the same weaknesses.
What if it were the other way? What if Francis came to our time, came to your parish, came to a Mass you were at, and sat next to you. Maybe you make small talk with him; maybe he introduces himself to you. What if he tells you he came from the past to tell us that sanctity is possible? What if someone else came and sat next to you at Mass, and told you they were from the future, and in their parish is a statue of you. How would you react?