Monday, October 04, 2010

Saint Francis, He's Not Just For Animals Anymore

Ah, the beloved Saint Francis... someone once told me that Saint Francis was a Lutheran saint. Not, mind you, that he was a forerunner to the Lutheran tradition in Christianity, but that he was a saint every Lutheran could love. After all, he loves those little critters, and how can we get upset with that, right?

On this day when so many folks are blessing animals, as I did yesterday, that Saint Francis' legacy is much bigger than just him out there preaching to the birds. And it must be said that I have a friend who upon hearing that I am blessing animals tells me that preaching to the birds was actually a social commentary on wealthy family who were somehow connected to bird names.

It is important to remember Francis as one who gave up everything. He came from a wealthy family where his father was successful in dealing cloth. After spending a year as a prisoner of war suffering from disease, he returns home more reflective and devout. His conversion comes in 1207, after which he rejects his wealthy and comfortable lifestyle. He embraces poverty and the mendicant life-style in order to imitate Christ. His father, not at all pleased with his son's decision, dragged him before the bishop to have Francis renounce any claim on his father's fortune. Francis gladly did. St. Bonaventure, Francis' most prominent biographer and significant member in the development of the Franciscan order, wrote about this moment,
A true lover of poverty, Francis showed himself eager to comply; he went before the bishop without any delay or hesitating. He did not wait for any words nor did he speak any, but immediately took off his clothes and gave them back to his father. Then it was discovered that the man of God had a hairshirt next to his skin under his fine clothes. Moreover, drunk with remarkable fervor, he even took off his underwear, stripping himself completely naked before all. He said to his father: "Until now, I have called you father here on earth, but now I can say without reservation, 'Our Father who art in heaven' [Matt 6:9], since I have placed all my treasure and all my hope in him" When the bishop saw this, he was amazed at such intenser fervor in the man of God. he immediately stood up and in tears drew Francis into his arms, covering him with the mantle he was wearing, like the pious and good man he was. He bade his servants give Francis something to cover his body. They brought him a poor, cheap cloak of a farmer who worked for the bishop. Francis accepted it gratefully and with his own hand marked a cross on it with a piece of chalk, thus designating it as the covering of a crucified man and a half-naked beggar. (from "The Life of Saint Francis" by Saint Bonaventure)
Francis heard a call from God to lead a radical lifestyle in response to Christ's command. Francis's legacy is surely something for us to hear in a time of overabundant possessions (even in a time of recession).

We may also be used to hearing the prayer "Lord make me an instrument of thy peace," and the saying "Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words." both attributed to Francis. And of course we may sing "All Creatures of Our God and King" which is a hymn based on Francis' "The Canticle of Brother Sun." But I found in an anthology of Christian Spirituality two beautiful prayers by Francis.

St. Francis' Prayer Before the Crucifix
Most High,
glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me, Lord,
a correct faith,
a certain hope,
a perfect charity,
sense and knowledge,
so that I may carry out your bold and true command.

and an untitled prayer that comes from Francis' "A Letter to the Entire Order"
Almighty, eternal and mercifucl God,
grant us in our misery [the grace]
to do for you alone
what we know You want us to do,
and always
to desire what pleases You.

inwardly cleansed,
interiorly enlightened,
and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit,
may we be able to follow
in the footsteps of Your beloved Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ.

by Your grace alone,
may we make our way to You,
Most High,
Who live and rule
in perfect Trinity and simple Unity,
and are glorified
God all-powerful
forever and ever.

Hmm... I don't know... maybe Francis was Lutheran after all. May the witness of his discipleship inspire us all to respond to our Lord's call in faithful response to the grace bestowed upon us.

(Excerpt from Bonaventure's biography, and both prayers, taken from the most excellent anthology, Invitation to Christian Spirituality, edited by John R. Tyson, pages 162-165, Oxford University Press, 1999)

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