Today we celebrate the feast of one of the most beloved saints in Church history: St. Francis of Assisi, whose actual feast day was yesterday, Oct. 4th.
Francis Bernadone of Assisi may have been somewhat insignificant, but the movement he began has had a great impact on the world for 700 years.
In a vision that got him started on his way, while he was standing in the ruins of an old church, he believed Jesus said to him “Go, rebuild my church!” While he initially took this to mean rebuild the ruins, he later realised that there were some things in the church that needed to be challenged and rebuilt.
Francis knew one thing for sure though: HE WANTED TO BE POOR – AND POOR HE WAS! Poor in material things – and poor in spirit!
The life that he created initially for himself and eventually for the communities he founded was expressed in 12 core values: it was a life
of appreciating God's creation, and
He emulated all of these concepts and activities to an amazing degree!
It is about the last three that I would simply like to elaborate (simplicity, appreciation of Creation, and Service):
SIMPLICITY – Francis understood that the ways of the world, even in his day, crowded out the life in God we are all called to live. Christian living should be counter-cultural. It should be different from the way ordinary people live, and St Francis gives us a few ideas of how this looks practically. And so do the Ten Commandments when we read them carefully.
If we listened to the ways of our world, they would have us all working 7 days a week to earn the money needed to buy the things they say we need and we would all be stressed out by the fact that we are always not there yet. The ways of the world also want us to spend, spend, spend – even if we have to borrow the money to do it.
In its own way, this is what life was like for the Israelites in Egypt. The whole economy was pressured into maintaining the lifestyle of the Pharaoh and the ruling classes by the hard and constant work of the working poor.
When Moses brought back the Ten Commandments for the people that day on Mt Sinai God was calling the Israelites into a radically different way of life than had ever been seen before.
This Sabbath business was an amazing innovation. It was about demonstrating that we didn’t have to be stressed out all the time earning a living. It was about trusting God. Along with the tithe it was a way of saying we have enough. We don’t need more. God is good.
Today thousands of Franciscan religious all over the world, as well as many more Tertiaries who do not live in congregations, try to live by this rule of simplicity.
APPRECIATION OF CREATION – You may have heard of the story of St Francis and the wolf. A wolf had been terrorising a village and the people invited Francis to come and help them. Francis had a reputation of being an animal whisperer – as we would call it today. He could understand animals and they were not frightened of him. He “spoke” to the wolf, and finding out that the poor wolf was simply hungry, Francis got to wolf to agree not to terrorise the people if they would simply leave food out for it each evening. A miracle.
But Francis also had a profound sense of the connection between God and creation – all creation. He wrote that hymn we all love:
All creature of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing.
He referred to sun and moon as Brother Sun and Sister Moon.
And this is why his feast makes a great culmination for our celebration of the Season of Creation.
SERVICE – While Francis and his brothers and nuns chose to live in poverty, they had a strong sense of mission to serve the poor. Those who were poor through no fault of their own, or because of the ways of the world that seem to need some people doing their work for less money than it takes to live, these were the ones Francis sought to serve in self-less giving.
It was this vision of his ministry that inspired that lovely prayer we sing that is attributed to him – but is unlikely to have been written by him:
Brother, sister let me serve you
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant too.
It is the witness of Franciscans all over the world over many centuries now that this way of simplicity, of service to others and of appreciation of all creation empowers a vibrant and faithful Christian life.