Friday, October 1, 2010

St. Francis of Assisi

The Episcopalian and Catholic Churches set aside certain days to honor men and women who lived lives of great faithfulness, and in a way the Lutheran Church does, too. But while the Catholic Church is very formal in who is and who isn’t a saint, the Episcopal and Lutheran Church hold that all believers in Christ are saints. The Episcopal Church publishes a new calendar every three years that sets aside days to honor well-known Christians, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. They pick out readings that help us think about the saint’s life.

One of the greatest saints from history is one of the most humble – he shunned that kind of attention while alive! Francis from Assisi, Italy is remembered on October 4th. Francis Bernardone was born around 1180 AD and died when he was only 45. He was ot a good student as a boy, and not a good businessman when he tried working for his father. He was a tiny man, and when he tried to fight in a battle got captured for a year. While he was a captive, he started thinking about God. But when he returned home, he was a medieval equivalent of a partier. But then three incidents changed his life: (1) he met a disgusting leper that he was moved to help, (2) he gave a big donation to a shrine of St. Peter, and then (3) sold his home and stuff to repair his home church! This last was in response to a vision he had while praying. His father was so mad, though, he beat him, dragged him home and locked him up. His mother freed him when his father was away, and he returned to the church. When one day he heard the gospel where Jesus said:

Mark 6:7-11 Jesus Sends Out the Twelve
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

He gave away the little he had left, and started wearing a coarse brown robe like the poorest beggars wore. And then people started following him and imitating him. They came to the attention of those in power in the church, and they tried to disband them but ultimately approved of them. His followers grew in number, and he sent them out 2 by 2 with one tunic and nothing for the journey. His example changed all the monks throughout Europe. He continued to have visions throughout his life. Sometimes the wounds of Jesus appeared on Francis’ body; this is called stigmata. He became famous, too, for his love of nature, and peace with the animals. There are stories of birds coming to listen to his sermons, and wild animals coming to him to be fed.

1) What do you notice about this biography? What questions do you have?

These are the readings the church picked out for his feast:
Galatians 6:14-18 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule-- peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

2) Why would they pick this reading for Francis?

Psalm 148:7-14 Laudate Dominum (Praise the Lord)
Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea-monsters and all deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, doing his will;
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars;
Wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and winged birds;
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the world;
Young men and maidens, old and young together.
Let them praise the Name of the LORD, for his Name only is exalted, his splendor is over earth and heaven. He has raised up strength for his people and praise for all his loyal servants, the children of Israel, a people who are near him.

3) Why would they pick this reading for Francis?

Matthew 11:25-30 Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

4) Why would they pick this reading for Francis?

There is a prayer ascribed to St. Francis, as well as other writings.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

5) What in that prayer reminds you of anything we know about Jesus and what he said?

6) Take a second to jot down something new to you in this lesson.

There was a very hippy-feeling bio film of St Francis made by Franco Zeffirelli. Here's their take on the prayer of St Francis. It shows Clare, who started a Franciscan order of nuns to parallel the monks.

Bonus: an amazing hymn of praise. (If you check youtube there's a song for this, too.)

Canticle of All the Creatures, attributed to St. Francis

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,
who sustains us
with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.

We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon,
for love of You bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by You Most High, they will be crowned.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.

We praise and bless You, Lord, and give You thanks,
and serve You in all humility.

Catholic Encyclopedia - St Francis
Episcopal Calendar of Saints
Prayer Foundation - Canticle of All the Creatures

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