"Repair my church, for it is in ruins."
These are the famous words that St. Francis of Assisi heard from an icon of Christ on the cross in the Church of San Damiano outside of Assisi, Italy. He took the vision to be referring to the particular church in which he was praying and so began work to have it restored.
In retrospect, however, with all that Francis did to re-invigorate the Church at large, many believe that Francis misunderstood - that the vision was speaking of the Church.
St. Francis continues to inspire many today, including many in the Protestant tradition. Most recently, I heard Shane Claiborne cite this particular story of Francis' life in a talk he gave, adding that many Christians felt they were hearing the same thing today.
While I deeply respect many within the Protestant tradition who are inspired by Francis (such as Claiborne), I'm not sure that they realize the irony of the situation: Francis heard a voice that told him to repair the Church, not to abandon the current one. And yet, many Christians who cite Francis as an inspiration stand at best in an ecclesial no-mans-land if not explicitly within the Protestant tradition.
Francis was a Catholic, a devout Catholic. He encouraged Catholics to take their Catholicity more seriously. Francis was not a stand-alone revolutionary, nor a rebel who cast off the structures of the Catholic Church in order to get to "the real core" of the Christian life. Although the Church of his day was full of blatant corruption among clergy- including the selling of Church offices and openly ignoring vows of celibacy - Francis exhorted Catholics to continue to reverence clerics and to respect them as the only ministers of the Eucharist, which he believed to be the real presence of the Body and Blood of our Lord. He encouraged people to confess their sins to priests and to follow the teaching of the Church. He submitted himself to the authority of the Pope.
And to those who try to dismiss his Catholicity with a suggestion that there was somehow no other option, I remind you that what I explained in my post "Heresy Has Always Been an Option" was true of Francis as well (e.g. the Cathars, the Waldensians, etc). Francis was not Catholic by default.
St. Francis is indeed a model for us today. Let us follow him in living our Christian life in the only place that we can do so fully - the Catholic Church. And as we inevitably encounter sin, problems, and disappointments, let us work in a spirit of humility, love, and obedience to repair the Church.