Tag Archives: Saint Francis

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.

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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

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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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3 December: Whose sacrifice? Francis and his Father.

525px-Giotto_-_Legend_of_St_Francis_-_-05-_-_Renunciation_of_Wordly_Goods

Here, as promised, is Francis as a young man giving back to his father the fine clothes he had earned or been given in the course of the family business. During Mass at the Upper Basilica in Assisi, we found ourselves seated next to this Giotto fresco. A rather worried looking bishop is covering Francis’s nakedness with a towel. I can’t help but wonder what is going through the episcopal mind: this is not an everyday scene. Was he trying to keep the peace between father and son?

Many families have moments of truth, if less dramatic. We don’t expect our children to turn their backs so determinedly on all that we parents have worked for, worked hard for in the case of the prosperous merchant: his long days of travelling, hours of hard bargaining and of learning to appreciate the skill of the weavers and embroiderers who supplied him. Perhaps the bishop’s own vestments were cut from Mr Bernadone’s cloth, but he saw that it was good, and so was the comfortable family life it brought.

Francis is not turning his back on his father and on riches, but in a gesture of prayer, he offers them to his Creator. He is learning how to be a creature, rather than a self-made man.

So who is called to sacrifice here? Francis has made his decision and by this gesture he makes it public. He will live openly dependent on God, utterly crazy in the eyes of his father who has constructed a secure home with every mod con, including servants. Peter Bernadone can see poverty any time he cares to look for it and he shuns it, the cold, filth, hunger poor people endured then.

Letting his son go must have been a wrenching, tremendous sacrifice; so I wonder who needed the bishop most, once this scene was over, the son or the father?

Abraham was called, challenged, to sacrifice his son, only for Isaac to be restored and redeemed, sent back to become a patriarch, an ancestor of God’s people. Francis was to live largely under the family’s eye, dying at the bottom of the hill on which Assisi is built, a daily challenge to his former circle.

Let us pray for the wisdom  to handle moments of truth without antagonising any of the parties involved, and for the grace to be close to our families in times of trial and times of joy.

WT

Image from Wikipedia

 

 

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2 December: ‘What comes after the winter snows?’

snowgapa

Just looking at this photograph, I can feel the cold; the crisp, clear cold of the Alpine winter I enjoyed in my youth. We may well not see a flake this winter down in Kent, but we ca expect some cold, wet, ‘let’s stay indoors’ days.

Time to sit in the warm and be grateful for it, not taking it for granted. The sentence I quoted above invites us to such reflection, for it reads in full:

Autumn can be a powerful time of reflection about life, transition, change, death, and what comes after the winter snows of our Earthly journey’s end.

Well, when I read Fr James Kurzynski’s article back in October I had already slotted posts for every day that could count as officially autumnal, but it seemed just as appropriate to Advent, so I’m sharing it now. Follow the link to Fr James’s back yard. He was stargazing, not looking for the Star of Bethlehem, but still found wonder, light and burning beauty in the skies and in his soul.

A bit cold in the Northern hemisphere for lying out on the grass, but telescope or no telescope, even five minutes stargazing in a city garden brings a reminder of the wonders of ‘our galactic home’.

francis stargazing

Saint Francis did not have a telescope but he did have a family; we read about his renunciation of their privileged way of life tomorrow. That decision enabled him to lie down on Sister Earth anf admire the heavens!

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8 October: Mary Webb’s Franciscan generosity.

Mary_webb

The poet Henry Moult, in his biography of Mary Webb, describes her nature mysticism as ‘pagan’. I feel ‘Franciscan’ would be better; certainly she was Franciscan in her generosity. Moult shares the testimony of relatives:

‘Her charity often did more credit to her heart than her head, for she gave extravagantly, with an abandon which sometimes left her own real necessities unsupplied … A friend of Mary’s said: ‘She might have twenty pounds in the morning, and hardly ten shillings at night.’ (Ten shillings became 50p)

‘Whatever was asked of her by those who sought her help she joyously supplied.’

Moult quotes a friend telling how she asked the Shropshire village children what they would like for Christmas, and a farm labourer’s daughter ‘ambitious as well as presumptuous’ and no doubt unaware of the monetary value, asked for a piano, and received it. Let’s hope she learnt to play! Another time a windfall came her way, which she used to send a sick child and his family out of their single room in London’s East End to the coast in Essex.

Any attempt, says Moult, to explain her ‘chivalrous actions’ would be ‘as futile as to seek an explanation why St Francis devoted so much of his affection to the birds.’

I suggest that the actions of Mary Webb, like those of Saint Francis, were not chivalrous. Francis, after all, renounced his ambition to become a knight, he embraced poverty. Mary Webb’s generosity was not a matter of noblesse oblige, but stemmed from the sympathy with poor people that pervades her novels. Both of them loved Creation and the Creator; both loved their fellow human beings. There is the explanation for their generosity and their mysticism.

Mary Webb died this day in 1927.

 

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4 October, the Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia, VII: Welcome, Francis!

dec 23 pic birds in flight4bc7872c090c71da62a65f182c7c3ff1

And when that they were come about halfway up the mountain, as the heat was very great and the ascent was weary, the peasant became very thirsty, in such sort that he began to cry aloud behind Saint Francis, saying : “ Woe is me, for I die of thirst; if I find not something to drink, I shall choke outright.” Wherefore Saint Francis got down off the ass and fell on his knees in prayer and remained so long kneeling with his hands lifted up to heaven, until he knew by revelation that God had heard his prayer. Then said Saint Francis to the peasant; “Run quickly to that rock, and there shalt thou find the living water, which Jesu Christ in this hour, of His mercy, hath made to come forth from out that rock.” So he ran to the place that Saint Francis had shown him, and found a fair spring that had been brought out of the hard rock by virtue of the prayer of Saint Francis: and he drank his fill thereof and was comforted.

And it doth well appear that this spring was brought out by God in miraculous fashion at the prayers of Saint Francis, seeing that neither before nor after was there ever seen in that place a spring of water, nor any living water near to that place for a great space round. This done, Saint Francis with his companions and the peasant gave thanks unto God for the miracle shown forth to them, and then went they on their way.

And as they drew near to the foot of the rock of Alvernia itself, it pleased Saint Francis to rest a little under the oak that was by the way, and is there to this day; and as he stood under it, Saint Francis began to take note of the situation of the place and of the country round. And as he was thus gazing, lo! there came a great multitude of birds from divers parts, the which, with singing and flapping of their wings, all showed joy and gladness exceeding great, and came about Saint Francis in such fashion that some settled on his head, some on his shoulders, and some on his arms, some in his lap, and some around his feet.

When his companions and the peasant marvelled, beholding this, Saint Francis, joyful in spirit, spake thus unto them: “I believe, brothers most dear, that it is pleasing unto our Lord Jesu Christ that we should dwell in this lonely mountain, seeing that our little Sisters and brothers the birds show such joy at our coming. And said these words, they arose, and went on their way and came at last to the place that his companions had first chosen. And this is the first reflection, to wit, how Saint Francis came to the holy mount of Alvernia.

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