Tag Archives: Saint Francis

July 23. Little Flowers of Saint Francis LI: Brother Leo’s Dream

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How Saint Francis set forth unto Brother Leo a fair dream that he had seen

It befell on a time that Saint Francis was grievously sick and Brother Leo did him service; the said Brother Leo, whilst praying close to Saint Francis, was rapt in ecstasy, and borne in spirit to a mighty river, broad and rushing furiously. And as he stood there for to see who crossed over it, he beheld certain brothers enter into the river, with loads upon their backs; the which were straightway thrown down by the force of the stream and were drowned; but certain others went as far as a third of the way over; others, as far as the middle of the stream; some nearly to the other bank; but in the end they all fell down and were drowned.

Seeing this, Brother Leo had exceeding great compassion on them: and meanwhile lo! there came suddenly a great multitude of brothers that had on their backs no load or burden of any kind and the light of holy poverty shone upon them; and they entered into the stream and passed over without any peril; and when he had seen this, Brother Leo came back to himself again. Then Saint Francis perceiving in spirit that Brother Leo had seen a vision, called him unto him and questioned him concerning what he had seen: and whenas Brother Leo had told him all the vision in order, quoth Saint Francis: That which thou hast seen is true. The great river is this world; the brothers that were drowned in the river are they that remained not true to their profession of the gospel life, and chief above all to that of the deepest poverty; but they that without peril passed over are those brothers that neither seek nor possess in this world aught that is earthly or carnal, but being temperate in clothing and in food, are content therewith, following Christ naked upon the cross; and with gladness and right good will do they bear the burden and sweet yoke of Christ and of most holy obedience; wherefore they pass with ease from this temporal life to life eternal.

We are saving Post L (50) of this series until Christmas day, where it belongs.

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21 July, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLIX: Kindred Spirits 2.

st louisSaint Louis, King of France, had come in disguise to visit Brother Giles. They spent the whole of his visit in loving silence.

And whenas they had a long time continued together without having spoken together, they parted the one from the other, and Saint Louis went his way on his journey, and Brother Giles returned unto his cell.

When the king was gone, a certain brother asked one of his companions who it was that had embraced Brother Giles for so long time; and he replied that it was Louis, King of France, the which had come for to see Brother Giles. When this he told to the other brothers, they were exceeding sorrowful for that Brother Giles had spoken never a word to him: and murmuring thereat, they said to him: “O Brother Giles, why hast thou shown thee so discourteous as to say naught at all to so holy a king that had come from France to see thee and hear from thy lips good words?’

Replied Brother Giles: “Dear brothers, marvel not thereat, for neither I to him nor he to me could speak a word, sith so soon as we embraced each other, the light of heavenly wisdom revealed and showed to me his heart, and mine to him, and thus through divine working, each looking on the other’s heart, we knew what I would say to him and he to me, far better than if we had spoken with our mouths, and with more consolation than if we had sought to show forth in words the feelings of our hearts.

Through the weakness of human speech, that cannot express clearly the secret mysteries of God, it would have left us all disconsolate rather than consoled; wherefore know ye that the king departed from me with marvellous content and consolation in his soul.”

 

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30 June, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVI: How Brother Masseo obtained from Christ the virtue of humility and the gift of tongues.

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The forest seems to have been a good place for the early brothers of Saint Francis to find God and their own true selves.

The first companions of St Francis set themselves with all their might to follow holy poverty with regard to earthly things, and to acquire every other virtue, as the sure means of obtaining celestial and eternal riches.  Brother Masseo, hearing wonderful things of humility, and knowing it to be one of the greatest treasures of life eternal, was so inflamed with a love and desire of this virtue of humility, that he lifted his eyes to heaven with much fervour, and made a vow and firm resolution never again to rejoice until he should feel the said virtue to be firmly established in his soul.

From that moment he was constantly shut up in his cell, macerating his body with fasts and vigils and prayers, weeping before the Lord, and earnestly imploring him to grant him this virtue, without which he felt that he was only worthy of hell.

Brother Masseo having passed several days in this state of mind, as he was entering the forest and asking the Lord, who willingly listens to the prayers of the humble, with cries and tears to grant him this divine virtue, he heard a voice from heaven, which called him twice: “Brother Masseo! Brother Masseo!” And he, knowing in his spirit that it was the voice of Christ, answered: “My Lord.” Then Christ answered: “What wilt thou give in exchange for this virtue which thou askest for?” And Brother Masseo answered: “Lord, I will willingly give the eyes out of my head.” Christ answered: “I grant thee the virtue, and command at the same time that thou keep thine eyes.”

And having said these words, the voice was silent; and Brother Masseo was so filled with the grace of humility, that from thenceforward he was constantly rejoicing. And often when he was in prayer he was heard to utter a joyful sound, like the song of a bird, resembling “U-u-u”, and his face bore a most holy and happy expression. With this he grew so humble that he esteemed himself less than all other men in the world. And Brother James of Fallerone having asked him why in his joy he used always the same sound, he replied gaily, that when in one way he found all good he saw no reason to change it.

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29 June, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLV: The Secrets of Hearts

 

EVEN as our Lord Jesus Christ saith in the Gospel: “I know My little sheep and they know Me,” so the good father St. Francis, like a good shepherd, knew all the merits and virtues of his companions by Divine revelation, and so likewise he knew their imperfections also; whereby he was able to provide for all of them the best remedy; to wit, humbling the proud, exalting the humble, rebuking vice, and praising virtue; as may be read in the wonderful revelations which he had concerning that first family of his.

Among the which we find that once, when St. Francis was with his said family in a Place, discoursing of God, Friar Ruffino was not with them, being in the wood in contemplation; but, while they continued to discourse of God, lo! Friar Ruffino [a noble citizen of Assisi, but a nobler servant of God, a most pure virgin, sublimated by the noble prerogative of Divine contemplation, and adorned before God and man with the flowers of odoriferous conversation] came forth from the wood and passed by at some distance from them.

Thereupon, St. Francis, beholding him, turned to his companions and asked them: “Tell me, which, think ye, is the holiest soul that God hath upon this earth?” Whereto they made answer and said that they believed it was his own. Then St. Francis said unto them: “Most dear friars, I am of myself the most unworthy and the vilest man that God hath in this world; but see ye that Friar Ruffino who is now coming forth from the wood? God hath revealed unto me that his soul is one of the three holiest souls in the world; and of a sooth I tell you that I would not fear to call him St. Ruffino while he is yet alive, inasmuch as his soul is confirmed in grace and sanctified and canonised in heaven by our Lord Jesus Christ;” but St. Francis never spake these words in the presence of the said Friar Ruffino.

judasHow St. Francis knew the imperfections of his friars was clearly seen in like manner in Friar Elias, whom he often rebuked for his pride; and in that Friar Giovanni della Cappella, unto whom he foretold that he would hang himself by the neck; and in that friar whose throat was held fast by the devil what time he was admonished for disobedience; and in many other friars whose secret defects and virtues he knew clearly by revelation of Christ.

The artist of Strasbourg Cathedral shows the Lamb of God releasing the suicide Judas ready to remove him from Hell’s Mouth.

Woodland photograph by Eleanor Billingsley

 

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25 June: A bridge once crossed by Saint Francis: Relics XVII.

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When I lived in Gap, France, I must have crossed this little bridge more than once. That bed of dry stones can be a torrent when the snows melt on the Charence mountain. But this was midsummer, and George was walking a different path to the rest of the family, and posing in the shadows.

I can’t remember how I learned that St Francis crossed this bridge on his travels to preach the Good News, but it’s not something I’d have made up! Considering the number of bridges he must have crossed, is it all that special, other than because it is very old? How many other good and famous people have used it – apart from our George?

There are fragments of wall in the next street to ours, that were once the garden wall of the Roper family; Margaret, the mother, was Thomas More’s daughter; he came here to Canterbury, and it was here that she brought his head for burial in Saint Dunstan’s church, just up the Whitstable Road out of town.

Flesh and blood that I am, eyes and ears and mouth and nose, I appreciate these unsung links with the past. George, around the time this picture was taken, used to climb up a fragment of the Roman wall of Canterbury on his way home from school every day, and I let him; it’s not as though I’m crazy for relics. But we are one family and, as Jesus himself suggested, the Father can make these stones sing out (Luke 19:40). So let’s listen to them.

Francis was told by God to rebuild the Church; he began with a derelict chapel, and a movement of men and women still follow him today; he was in a hurry to preach Good News when he crossed this bridge. Thomas More lived at another time of turmoil and died a martyr after imprisonment in the Tower of London, away from the Canterbury Bells and other flowers in his daughter’s garden.

I cycle past the Roper’s place without a thought most mornings. I did not think of Francis as I went parish visiting in Gap, but it is good to be reminded that our lives criss-cross with those who have gone before us. If God brought them safe thus far, to Gap or Canterbury or even the Tower, he can surely lead us home.

 

 

 

 

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22 June: Overheard on a journey

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I had been visiting friends a long way from home, and took a train from Western Ontario back towards Montreal and my plane which I almost missed, but that’s another story.

A conference was finishing in one of the towns we passed through, a conference for church ministers. Two, an older man and one as fresh-faced as I was at the time, came and sat behind me. They would be crossing the border back to the US, changing half an hour later to get their plane or connecting train, so I did not hear the whole of their conversation.

I wished, and still wish I hadn’t heard any of it at all, but occasionally it comes back to haunt me. My apologies to any reader who thinks I ought to have kept it to myself.

I can well understand that the ministers would not be talking Scripture or Theology or Hospital Visiting at the end of the conference, unless there had been a truly inspirational speaker! Sport, family, holidays, gardening, I could understand. But what I could not help overhearing would have put me off if I had been one of their flock or someone inching towards faith.

The older man was congratulating his colleague on his appointment to a church that he knew, but rather than advising him about the congregation, the town and their strengths and needs, it was a monologue on clerical ambition and how to fulfil it. ‘In five years’ time you should be looking to be in a much larger, more prosperous church’, the younger man was told. Making a name for himself in the local newspaper (this was 40 years ago), driving newer, larger cars, the message seemed to be that the prosperity gospel was to be lived by example.

I could not believe my ears; this man clearly felt he was safe on the train, nobody could hear him. Did he believe that Jesus preferred his gospel to that of Saint Francis, or a poor Baptist preacher, supporting a church in a run down suburb or rural settlement? Was he idealistic as a young man? Where did his zeal go?

Lord, send us priests and holy priests!

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May 4: The Signpost

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THE SIGN-POST by Edward Thomas
THE dim sea glints chill. The white sun is shy.
And the skeleton weeds and the never-dry,
Rough, long grasses keep white with frost
At the hilltop by the finger-post;
The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed
Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft.
I read the sign. Which way shall I go?
A voice says: You would not have doubted so
At twenty. Another voice gentle with scorn
Says: At twenty you wished you had never been born.
One hazel lost a leaf of gold
From a tuft at the tip, when the first voice told
The other he wished to know what ‘twould be
To be sixty by this same post. “You shall see,”
He laughed—and I had to join his laughter—
“You shall see; but either before or after,
Whatever happens, it must befall,
A mouthful of earth to remedy all
Regrets and wishes shall freely be given;
And if there be a flaw in that heaven
‘Twill be freedom to wish, and your wish may be
To be here or anywhere talking to me,
No matter what the weather, on earth,
At any age between death and birth,—
To see what day or night can be,
The sun and the frost, the land and the sea,
Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring,—
With a poor man of any sort, down to a king,
Standing upright out in the air
Wondering where he shall journey, O where?
Edward Thomas was another who suffered from depression – At twenty you wished you had never been born. He would walk it off for hours.
Here he has been walking, walking, facing the mouthful of earth that awaits him in death, but now acknowledges the wish to be anywhere talking to … maybe his wife Helen? ‘And with a poor man of any sort, down to a king.’ Whatever Thomas meant by that, the words ‘down to a king’ put me in mind of Philippians which we touched on yesterday. Continuing chapter 2:6-8:
Christ Jesus who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the  form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.
And then there is the story of the walkers to Emmaus being overtaken by one they should have recognised. (Luke  24:13-35) He is there at the crossroads, knowing all too well how each of us has our own cross to bring to the hilltop. And death shall be freely given – Sister Death as Francis put it. Not to be snatched before time! Had Thomas killed himself at twenty, we would have been the poorer without his word painting: The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft. 
Sometimes it is good to stop, stand upright and look around us, even at a falling leaf. After all, Christ himself told us to consider the lilies of the field. And then walk on in his company.

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28 March. Before the Cross XIV, Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

It’s always a joy to receive a post from Christina Chase. Here is her contribution to our season of reflections ‘Before the Cross’.

Meditation upon a crucifix,

remembering an image at Ste. Anne de Beaupré

of Christ with St. Francis of Assisi,

while having my bedroom wall crucifix in sight

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Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

Arms for work, so strong and sure,

are not dependable

unless they’re open wide in love.

They cannot hold dear wisdom close

or carry souls in need,

they cannot lift the sobbing low to soaring heights of joy,

until they’re held and pinioned fast

by love’s relinquishing embrace.

Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

Legs of strength, so swift and free,

are but weak and purposeless

unless they run the endless race of love’s pursuit

and stand upon the heart of God —

for flight is stronger, swifter, freer, when nailed down

into the power of love.

Conform me to your likeness, Lord!

See me, here, little and lacking,

my own body twisted thin,

limbs immobile, lungs slowly failing.

Teach me, Lord, mould me, shape me,

move me in your stillness

with emulating love,

tell me from the silence

of the Cross that you love me,

and I will be able to go every where that you are.

© 2019 Christina Chase
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20 March: Before the Cross VII. Saint Francis’s Prayer before the Crucifix.

 

Most high,

glorious God,

enlighten the darkness of my heart,

and give me true faith,

certain hope,

and perfect charity,

sense and knowledge,

Lord,

that I may carry out

your holy and true command.

AMEN.

We are told that Francis prayed with these words in the early days of his conversion as he sought to learn God’s will for him. He spent hours before this crucifix, the San Damiano Cross, which is reproduced in many Franciscan churches. We had one at the Franciscan International Study Centre in Canterbury. This one is in the chapel of the Franciscan Minoresses in Leicestershire. 

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Text in Francis of Assisi, the Saint, Early Documents vol I, Eds Armstrong, Hellman, & Short, NY, New City Press, 1999 p40; San Damiano Cross, Public Domain via Wikipedia; Minoresses’ Chapel, photo by CD.

 

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16 February. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVIII: Brother Ruffino 5, the beautiful sermon.

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The folk of Assisi beholding Saint Francis in the self-same guise as Brother Ruffino, made mock of him, deeming that he and Brother Ruffino had grown mad through overmuch penance.

Saint Francis entered into the church where Brother Ruffino was preaching these words “Dearly beloved, flee from the world and put away sin; render to others their due, if ye would escape from hell; follow the commandments of God, in loving God and your neighbour, if ye would go to heaven; do penance, if ye would possess the kingdom of heaven.”

Then Saint Francis went up into the pulpit, and began to preach so marvellously of the contempt of the world, of holy penitence, of voluntary poverty, and of the desire of the kingdom of heaven, and of the nakedness and shame of the passion of our Lord Jesu Christ, that all they that heard the preaching, men and women in great multitude, began to weep most bitterly with devout and contrite hearts; and not there alone, but in all Assisi was there that day such weeping for the passion of Christ, that never had there been the like.

And the people being thuswise edified and comforted by this act of Saint Francis and Brother Ruffino, Saint Francis re-clad Brother Ruffino and himself and so re-clad, they returned to the House of Portiuncula, praising and glorifying God, that had given them grace to overcome themselves, by the contempt of themselves, and to edify the little sheep of Christ by good example, and to show how greatly the world is to be despised. And on that day so much did the devotion of the people towards them increase, that he deemed himself blessed whoso could touch the hem of their garment.

Let’s pray that Brother Chris’s work in Zimbabwe is prospering. Lord hear us.

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