Tuesday, 6 October 2020

A Reflection on St Francis of Assisi

A reflection recorded in Killodiernan Church at Morning Worship for the Community of St Brendan the Navigator on Monday 5th October 2020.

St Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds, by Giotto

Most if not all of us must know at least the bare bones of the life-story of St Francis of Assisi. A gilded youth, dedicated to pleasure, he received a vision in a dilapidated church, in which he heard Christ say, ‘Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruin’. He renounced the wealth he would have inherited and adopted poverty as a lifestyle. He repaired the dilapidated church with his own hands. He travelled the countryside, calling those he met to penance, brotherly love, and peace. His example drew others to him. They lived together following a simple rule, ‘to follow the teachings of Lord Jesus Christ, and to walk in his footsteps’. This was the nucleus of what was to become the Franciscan Order, a preaching order which still flourishes.

Francis believed that the world was created good and beautiful by God, but needs to be redeemed because of human sin. He saw God reflected in the natural world around him, and he gained a reputation for his closeness to nature and animals.

The communion of all creation with a loving God is the focus of his distinctive spirituality. This is beautifully captured in a hymn he wrote, the Canticle of the Sun. Let’s listen to it.

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honour, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name. Praise be to God.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility. Amen.

This creation spirituality makes Francis more relevant than ever to our own times, challenged as we are by the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and the plight of the poor. It is no accident that Pope John Paul II declared St Francis to be the Patron Saint of Ecology. Nor that the present Pope chose Francis to be his papal name. Nor that Pope Francis chose the words from the Canticle of the Sun translated as ‘Be praised’ as the title of his environmental encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, a great gift to Christians of all traditions.

Let us give thanks for the life and witness of St Francis, 8 centuries ago. And let us commit ourselves to the care of God’s creation and the good earth he has given us, our common home.

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