theunfamiliarname

St Francis of Assisi

In Uncategorized on October 4, 2009 at 12:39 am

Francis of Assisi

“I thank you … because you have hidden these things from the wise
and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Those are words of the gospel reading for St Francis.
Francis, the fool for Christ,
who like a child turned his back on all his age had to offer:
soldiery,  wealth, a certain rather attractive social life,
the expected and the easy.

Turned his back on them, not as an escape, so much,
as with a childlike unwillingness to accept
that this is the way things always have to be.

In some ways Francis never grew up.
He was this sort of compulsive figure his whole life long.
He would just do things.
Things that damaged his standing and even his family relationships.
He gave things away without thinking.
He made promises that were hard to keep.
He renounced his family and their fortune.

But part of what Francis did
was to clear some of the rubbish
we feel, as grown-ups, we need to surround ourselves with.

It was a message he brought not just to his own life,
but to the Church of his day.
A huge challenge, a kind of carbuncle of integrity
festering away on a soft and well rounded ecclesiastical behind.

Francis loved the Church,
but he could see
in the kind of way that the child who knows the Emperor has no clothes can see.

Francis followed the Crusaders,
and came away deeply disillusioned with the face of faith he saw there.

St Francis died, all too young, at 45.
The last two years of his life were marked by the gift, for so he saw it,
of the wounds of Christ, the stigmata.

Modern eyes have seen in this a disease of the poor – tuberculoid leprosy:
Francis and his followers had deliberately chosen from the very outset
to live and work beside a colony of lepers.

These were the wounds of Christ, the stigmata,
and to this day we know the word that shares its origin,
the word Francis tried to challenge by his radical living out of the gospel:
stigma.

Here is a man who embraced poverty
and who prayed for the wounds of Christ.
And whose life came to an end bearing those very wounds.

That, as an image,
is both profoundly disturbing and beautiful beyond words.
What other reaction should a saint prompt in us?

Francis was a preacher, a man of words,
but he was also a man of symbol and action.
And it is the images of the childlike Francis preaching to birds,
talking with wolves,
stripping before his bishop,
that we have inherited most vividly.
Picturebook images that are our entree
into asking those most basic, naïve and uncomfortable questions
of ourselves and our lifestyle.

A view of the world that dares to delight in all aspects of the Created order –
in his Canticle, up to and including death.
A view of the world that chooses to confront comfortable expectation.
A view of the world that sees what we get a glimpse of as children:
a world awash, charged with the grandeur and the presence of God,
as if a conversation of the things we encounter:

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honour, and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no-one is worthy to mention Your name.

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Death, from whom no mortal can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.  AMEN.

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