Tag Archives: Saint Francis

6 May: Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXI: heavenly gifts.

St Francis at Ste Anne de Beaupre, Canada



Brother John of Alvernia, while yet a boy and living in the world, desired with all his heart to tread the path of penitence that keepeth pure both body and soul, whereby being still a little child, he began to wear the shirt of mail and iron girdle on his flesh, and to use great abstinence and above all, he shunned all carnal delights and mortified his body with great severity of abstinence but inspired of God he minded to leave the world with the lovers thereof, and to offer himself wholly unto the arms of the Crucified, in the habit of the crucified Saint Francis; and even so he did.

And being received into the Order while yet a boy, and committed unto the care of the master of the novices, he became so spiritually minded and so devout, that many a time hearing the said master speaking of God, his heart would melt like wax before the fire; and the love of God kindled in him such sweetness of grace, that not being able to remain still to endure such sweetness, he would get up, and as one drunken in spirit, would run, now through the garden, now through the wood, now through the church, according as the flame and the ardour of the spirit drave him.

The divine grace made this angelic soul to grow continually from virtue unto virtue, and in heavenly gifts, being uplifted unto God and rapt in ecstasy; so that at one time his mind was lifted up to the splendours of the Cherubim, at another time to the ardours of the Seraphim, at another to the joys of the Blessed, at another to the loving and ineffable embraces of Christ. And above all, once upon a time in exceeding wondrous fashion his heart was kindled with the fire of love divine, and this flame lasted in him for full three years, in which time he received marvellous consolations and visitations divine, and oftentimes was rapt in God, and in short, in the said time he seemed all on fire and burning with the love of Christ; and all this was on the holy mount of Alvernia.

Who today would counsel a young boy to wear penitential clothes? At least the Franciscans of the time let him run, run, run, like Zorba and his dancing. But things take a turn after three years.

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5 May: Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXX: Brother Jacques’ nightmare.

Brother John was resplendent above all the rest that had more completely drunk the chalice of life, whereby he had the more deeply gazed into the abyss of the infinite light divine: and had learned therein of the adversity and the tempest that was to rise up against this tree and shake and toss its branches. For the which cause Brother John came down from the top of the branch whereon he stood; and going down below all the branches hid himself in the solid tree and was rapt in thought.

One of the brothers that had taken part of the chalice and part had spilt, climbed up on to that place, whence Brother John had come down, And the nails of his hands became iron, sharp and keen as razors: whereat he left the place to which he had climbed, and with rage, and fury sought to hurl himself upon the said Brother John for to do him hurt. But Brother John cried aloud and commended himself to Christ that sat upon the throne; and Christ called unto him Saint Francis, and gave him a sharp flint stone, and said: “Take this stone and cut off the nails of that brother, wherewith he would fain tear Brother John, so that he may do him no hurt,”
Then Saint Francis came and did even as Christ had commanded. And this done, there arose a storm of wind, and shook the tree so violently that the brothers fell down on to the ground, and first of all they that had spilled all the chalice of the spirit of life, and were carried away by the devils to places of darkness and torment.

But Brother John, together with the others that had drunk all the chalice, were borne by the angels unto the place of life, and of light eternal, and beatific splendour. And Brother Jacques, that saw the vision, understood and discerned distinctly and separately all that he saw, touching the name and and condition and state of each one of them clearly. And so long did that storm beat against the tree that it fell, and the wind carried it away.
When the storm ceased, straightway from the golden root of this tree sprang up another tree that was all of gold, which brought forth leaves and flowers and fruit of gold. Of this tree, and how it spread out its branches and fixed deep its root, and of its beauty and fragrance and virtue, it were better to keep silence than to speak.

I was weighing up a shard of flint in my hand this morning. It was a good fit for my hand, and quite sharp, even from the batterings received in its centuries as a stone. The idea of being chased by Saint Francis wanting to cut my nails is pretty scary but so is that of being chased by a maddened, jealous friar! Thirty years after the hurricane blew down trees in our street their replacements are tall and sturdy. They were paid for bby the residents and businesses along the road. Brother Jacques’ second tree would have shared that communal vigour, emerging as fire-tested gold. May we have the grace to pass through the flames unhurt.

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May 4, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXIX: a tree fair to see.

LXIX BROTHER JACQUES of La Massa, unto whom God gave perfect knowledge and understanding of the Holy Scriptures and of things to come was of so great sanctity that Brother Giles of Assisi, Brother Mark of Montino, Brother Juniper, and Brother Lucido said that they knew of no one in the world that found greater favour in the sight of God than this Brother Jacques.

Brother Jacques with great humility confessed that he beheld in a dream a tree fair to see and very great, whose root was of gold, and its fruits were men, and they were all of them Brothers Minor. Its main branches were distinctly marked according to the number of the provinces of the Order, and each branch had as many brothers as there were in the province whose name was written on the branch. And he saw Brother John of Parma on the highest point of the midmost branch of this tree, and on the tops of the branches round about were the ministers of all the provinces.

And thereafter he saw Christ sitting on a throne exceeding great and shining, and Christ called Saint Francis up thither and gave him a chalice full of the spirit of life, and sent him forth saying : “Go, visit thy brothers, and give them to drink of this chalice of the spirit of life; for the spirit of Satan will rise up against them and will strike them, and many of them will fall and will not rise up again.”

And Christ gave unto Saint Francis two angels to bear him company. Then came Saint Francis to give the chalice of life to his brothers; and he gave it first to Brother John of Parma: who, taking it, drank it all in haste, devoutly; and straightway he became all shining like the sun. And after him Saint Francis gave it to all the other brothers in order; and there were but few among them that took it with due reverence and devotion, and drank it all. Those that took it devoutly and drank it all, became straightway shining like the sun ; but those that spilled it ail and took it not devoutly, became black, and dark, and misshapen, and horrible to see; but those that drank part and spilled part, became partly shining and partly dark, according to the measure of their drinking or spilling thereof.

I rarely remember my dreams and the scraps and figments that linger barely make sense. But reading this one, we can pray that, like James and John, we can drink the cup that Jesus drank to the very end, and shine with him so that people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

This picture, from Brother Chris, shows a tree of Francis’s life. John of Parma was the seventh Minister General of the Franciscans.

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14 March, Desert XVII: Simon says, have a place in our hearts.

starlings.wire

May we always have a place in our hearts for those who have no place that they can call their own.

Another of Fr Simon Denton OFM Cap’s words of wisdom. As a Franciscan, he knew the worth of poverty as lived by Saint Francis who renounced wealth and a comfortable home in Assisi to live in a community with Christ at its heart.

These starlings are not in their nesting season but it’s the time when they gather into communities – joining hundreds and thousands of others before bedding down for the night.

As they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.

Luke 9:57-58.

I read the other day that the question to ask somebody on being introduced should not be, ‘where are you from?’ rather ‘where do you feel at home?’ The starlings would answer differently in Spring, when they are nesting, to Winter, when they are in flocks;  home is where the heart is, the nest or the shared roost. At different times of life where we are at home will change too: family, flatmates, a personal bedsit, community or commune.

Most of us, I guess, will have felt as though we don’t belong for whatever reason, even when friends and family are at hand. Having no place to lay one’s head makes the whole world into a desert.

May we always have a place in our hearts for those who have no place that they can call their own. 

And perhaps we could contribute to local groups who provide people with shelter and a path to a secure home of their own.

MMB

 

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17 January, Church Unity week: Rebuild my Church

 

st damiano wall repaired

On the train towards Assisi, a Canadian was singing the praises of the Saskatoon winters, ’40° below, Fahrenheit or Celsius’, then announced to whoever was not listening, ‘In North America we would knock these buildings down and build something bigger; but here they repair and restore them.’

This particular wall is a stiff walk up from the railway station, at San Damiano in Assisi, the place where Saint Francis heard the call from the Crucified to ‘Rebuild my Church, which is falling down.’ That is a story that the Franciscans are living to this day; it was not just the ruinous chapel of San Damiano that needed rebuilding, but the whole of God’s Church, a project that should involve every group of people who claim to be Christian.

Pope Francis is calling us to rebuild the Church for today and tomorrow. What might that look like? A brand new building or a much-loved one, patched, repaired and altered to house a changing mission, and stones which the builders may have rejected in the past?

This wall is hundreds of years old; how many times has it been altered – and drastically altered – to fulfil changing needs or to strengthen it after earthquakes or erosion? For sure the big arch replaced he smaller one, to create a cart shed maybe, but in its turn it was no longer needed, so was filled in with irregular stone, its crest replaced by a horizontal course to support a new floor.

Successive architects could not have foreseen how their wall would become less fit for purpose, but they confidently built what was needed in their own life time. And that too would be rebuilt, centuries later.

Even today repairs and alterations continue around the monastery to make pilgrims welcome: electricity, running water, more even floors and steps, but the core of the church is as it was. The notice on the wall says that this is a Unesco World Heritage Site, not, though, a museum.

Our Faith is more precious than any Unesco heritage site. We will not preserve it as a treasure hidden in a field (or around San Damiano, an olive grove) but by bringing into the open, and using, treasures old and new.

Let us pray during Christian Unity Week, which begins tomorrow, for courage in our daily mission to rebuild Christ’s church together.

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15 January: Thomas Traherne XXIV, Did the Sun stand still …

dew.grass

Did the Sun stand still that you might have perpetual day, you would not know the sweetness of repose: the delightful vicissitudes of night and day, the early sweetness and spring of the morning, the perfume and beauty in the cool of the evening, would all be swallowed up in meridian splendour: all which now entertain you with delights.

The antipodes would be empty, perpetual darkness and horror there, and the Works of God on the other side of the world in vain.

Meditations 2:9

Traherne anticipates Pope Francis in this reflection, or should I say he brings to mind Saint Francis and his Canticle of Creation. Difficult, now, to say whether he knew that text, but he invites us to join all creatures of our God and King and sing his praises. Take time to absorb his way of speaking and let the light sink in.

 

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1 January. The Franciscans come to Alvernia, VIII: a New Start and a Second Welcome.

.assisi.clouds.hill

Back in October, we left Francis and his companions newly arrived at Mount Alvernia, where they were welcomed by the birds. News of their coming son reached Orlando, the landowner who gave them leave to live there. Although we might think how idyllic this life might be, the picture shows what weather can do in the area. Not great for comfortable camping!

Orlando, hearing that Saint Francis with three companions had climbed up the mount of Alvernia, for to dwell there, rejoiced with exceeding great joy, and on the following day set out with many of the folk of his castle, and came to visit Saint Francis, bringing with him bread and wine and other victuals for him and his companions; and being come there, he found them at prayer, and drawing near unto them, saluted them. Then Saint Francis arose, and with great love and gladness gave welcome to Orlando and his company; and this done, they sat them down to have speech of each other. And after they had somewhat spoken together, and Saint Francis had given him thanks for the holy mountain that he had given him, and for his coming thither, he besought him that he would let build a poor little cell at the foot of a fair beech tree, the which was a stone’s throw from the place where the brothers lived, for that place seemed to him very fit and hallowed for prayer. And straightway Orlando let build it.

And as it was drawing near unto evening and it was time for them to depart, Saint Francis preached unto them a little, before they took leave of him; and when he had preached unto them and given them his blessing, Orlando, finding he must needs depart, called Saint Francis and his companions aside, and said unto them: “My brothers most dear, I would not have you suffer any bodily want in this wild mountain, whereby you might the less be able to give heed to spiritual things: and therefore I desire, and this I say to you for once, for all, that ye send to my house for whatsoe’er ye need, and if ye do otherwise, I shall take it ill of you.” And this said, he departed with his company and returned to his castle.

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27 December: Look deeper than this pleasant scene.

pilgrimscrib4

Like me, you have probably heard tell of  Saint Francis and the crib but like me, you may never have heard the full story. Follow the link to Friar Jack Wintz’s excellent telling of the story. I won’t attempt to precis his account as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I leave you with Friar Jack’s final paragraphs. 

Peace be with you and yours!

Will Turnstone.

Francis would smile at our nice varnished cribs, though he would bless any home that has one. Probably he would prefer those set up outdoors with live animals. And if he were to stand by one and preach today, he might say something like this:

“Look deeper than this pleasant scene. See your God become your food for eternity in a feeding place for animals. See the simple bands wound around the helpless baby, not the embroidered dress. See a man and woman wearing the clothes of the poor. See and smell the animals. Feel the cold and dirt of the cave, lighted only by a little fire. And adore your God, who took a human heart that could know the greatest love and the sharpest pain, arms that could embrace the sinners, the neurotics, the lepers, and hands that could touch cheeks running with tears, and be pierced with nails. Adore your poor and humble God.”

 

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December 25, Little Flowers of Saint Francis L: Saint Clare’s Christmas

Clare.800px-Simone_Martini_047

It befell on a time that Saint Clare was grievously sick, so that she could not go at all to say the office in church with the other nuns. When the feast of the Nativity of Christ came round, all the others went to Matins: but she remained in her bed ill-content, for that she could not go with the others and partake of that spiritual consolation.

But Jesu Christ, her spouse, desiring not to leave her thus disconsolate, caused her to be miraculously carried to the church of Saint Francis and to be present at the whole of the office of Matins and the midnight Mass, and beyond all this to receive the Holy Communion and then be carried back to her bed.

When the nuns came back to Saint Clare, after the office in Saint Damian’s was over, they said to her: “O our mother, Sister Clare, what sweet consolation have we had on this holy feast of the Nativity! O, would that it had pleased God that you had been with us there!” And Saint Clare replied: “Praise and glory do give unto our Lord Jesu Christ, the blessed One, my sisters and daughters most dear; for that with much consolation to my soul I have had part in all the solemn rites of this most holy night, and even more than ye: sith through the loving care of my father, Saint Francis, and the grace of our Lord Jesu Christ, I have been present in the church of my venerable father, Saint Francis, and with the ears of my body and my mind have heard all the office and the sound of the organs that be there; and in the same place have taken the most holy Communion. Wherefore for such grace bestowed upon me rejoice and give thanks to our Lord Jesu Christ.

How encouraging to read that St Clare was ‘ill-content’ – which I read as grumpy! The day I was preparing this I was quite fed up after days of discomfort, but felt cheered by this story. Interesting that the Franciscans had an organ! Happy Christmas, from Ebenezer Scrooge, sorry, Will Turnstone and the team.

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17 December: Looking up.

francis stargazing

One of our friends urged me to share my experience of Assisi in September. Well, it will filter through as the weeks go by. This reflection is based on an extraordinary statue of Francis at the Hermitages where he and his and companions lived in caves in the rock face – caves that have since been enhanced, over the years, with walls and windows and more or less even stairways. But it was very much the outdoor life when Francis came here.

The hermitage was difficult to get to, a stiff uphill walk on an uneven track even to this day. The wooded hillside around it is a sanctuary, and certainly respected as a quiet place when we were there. And here we found Francis, lying on the rocky ground, looking skywards. I forget whether he was watching stars or clouds.

Not long ago I had a few hours with my new grandson, who was just getting used to having eyes; he was fascinated by the passing clouds, and somehow conveyed to me that he wanted to go outside and watch them without the intermediary of a window. So we went outside and his eyes opened ever wider.

Let’s pray for the grace to become as a little child and open our eyes to God’s beauty, even where humans have tried to tame it to suit our ideas rather than his. And let’s look out every day for the coming week: there will be a bright new shining star of some sort that will shine a light on our pilgrimage towards the Manger:

Laudato Si!

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