The reality of St. Francis Oct. 3, 2021

From the bulletin – “In today’s worship, we are observing the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi. The commentary on St Francis in Holy Women, Holy Men says that “of all the saints, Francis is the most popular and admired, but probably the least imitated; few have attained to his total identification with the poverty and suffering of Christ.” The readings are those appointed for this day in Holy Women, Holy Men. The opening hymn, “All creatures of our God and King” and the prayer, “Lord, make us instruments of your peace” are texts attributed to St Francis.”

 St. Francis Feast Day, Season of Creation 5 (full size gallery)

Commentary From Rev. Karen Haig
St Barnabas, Bainbridge Island

“Most people recognize St Francis. They may think he has more to do with gardens and birdbaths than he does with living a life that is deeply attuned to God’s delicate and wondrous creation, but people do see Francis as a champion of nature. It’s probably all those birds – birds on his head, birds on his arms, always the birds. People recognize Francis by the birds, just as they recognize his tired brown robe and his funny hair. Francis is a romantic figure for most of us, yet his life was far from romantic.

“Like so many saints, Francis grew up in a privileged, secular world. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant and his mother a French noble-woman from Provence. Francis grew up wanting for nothing and grew into a young nobleman who was the darling of Assisi society. He was a charmer at all the parties, the wittiest of conversationalists and probably voted the least likely to become a monk. He wasn’t a bad man. He simply loved pleasure and was happily ensconced in his very privileged life. He wanted to add “hometown hero” to his accolades so he joined a military expedition that turned out to be a miserable failure. Francis was held captive for over a year, and became gravely ill. Perhaps it was his illness that caused him to turn inward and contemplate more deeply a life in God. He eventually returned home to a life of internal conflict. Francis was drawn to the poor, and he gave away not just his own money but also his father’s. You can imagine the problem that created, so Francis took refuge with the priest at a little church called San Damiano. The story goes on and you can read about Francis in many
places, but for us, it is enough to know that Francis ultimately gave himself over to God in complete and utter surrender and the whole wide world was changed because of it.

“And that’s where we think we go our separate ways, yes? Francis gave up everything, every penny, every privilege, every bit of clothing, right down to his shoes, then he walked around in the world preaching to birds, taming wolves, freezing cold and preaching the gospel simply by living his life. That isn’t something we’re likely to do, so probably we’re not going to be famous and change the world, and no one will have statues of us with birds on our heads in their gardens.

“But it isn’t so. Our pilgrimage to Italy showed me so very much about how we really can be like Francis in ways that are as authentic to us as Francis’ ways were to him. You see, Francis wasn’t trying to live the life of any other saint, he wasn’t trying to be a saint at all.

“Francis came to know and to love the living God through the experiences of his life and the very same gospel you and I read from today. He took God at God’s word, and fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick. He took nothing for his journey (something I need to remember the next time I go to Italy}, allowing himself and his monks only two tunics and no shoes. It wasn’t that he was a fundamentalist, or even a literalist. Francis was a realist who recognized the realness of God in the gospel. He was ridiculed by many, and from what I read, he didn’t seem to care. Eventually his subversive way of following Jesus attracted many who knew the world they inhabited simply wasn’t right. Francis and his brothers, as well
as Clare and her sisters had a deep recognition of the holiness that infuses all of creation and they lived their lives in gratitude for the sacred in everything. That is something that we can do too.

“In all of my reading of San Francesco, what stands out so brightly is that God calls each one of us to a radically authentic life. No matter where or what we came from, God will use the experiences of our lives to prepare us to do our particular part in loving the world back into wholeness. One of the many important things Francis has to teach us is that beautiful opportunity to use absolutely everything we have – all our privilege, our power, our money, all of our gifts, to the glory of God and for the well-being of all of God’s creation. Francis did just that and we can too.

“God isn’t calling us to live Francis’ life, God is calling us to live our lives in the most radically authentic way we can. God has given each one of us gifts just as unique as the gifts God gave Francis, each one of them to be used to change the world. Sometimes we demure, thinking we shouldn’t toot our own horns, shouldn’t share the best stuff we’ve got, shouldn’t be awesome. But God made us awesome – each and every one of us and God did that so we can use all that awesomeness to change the world. Yes, it’s true we need humility, Francis taught that too. But really, when we can balance getting all of our goodness out into the world with the humility that recognizes all of our gifts as gifts from God TO BE GIVEN FOR GOD, well, I think if we could all do that, the world would be a very different place.

“Francis would be the first to tell you not to hide your light under a bushel. He also said “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” Whether you’re a grape grower or a cheesemaker, a bread baker or prosciutto crafter, whether you’re old or young, rich or poor, no matter who you are, God gave you just as many gifts as God gave Francis or anybody else. So offer them. Offer them in gratitude and humility and in harmony with all creation. Offer them without considering the outcome. Offer them knowing that God is working in you and the whole wide world is waiting for what only you can offer. Amen