Tag Archives: Saint Francis

9 July: Against the destructive power.

Pope Francis embraces a child as he meets the disabled during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 13, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Pope Francis’s Laudato si’, his teaching on the environment, and how we can care for it or destroy it. Humankind, he warns, has abandoned trust in God, in each other, and in the earth we inhabit. We need to acknowledge the harm we have done and continue to do, although we are much more aware of it than just a few years ago.

Sadly, the pandemic over, it seems people are scrambling to ‘get back to normal’ when our previous way of life was definitely not normal. It lacked respect: for God and his laws, which are the laws of true human living; for our neighbours, and for our mother earth and all that lives on her. But let’s read Francis’s own words. (The footnote links lead to the original document.)

66. The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19). It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence.[40] This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.Ex 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.

69. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”,[41] and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19). In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. The German bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, “we can speak of the priority of being over that of being useful”.[42] The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticizes a distorted anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things”.[43]

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12 June: Traherne XLIII: The Soul’s Treasures.

From L’Arche Ipswich.
Till we know the universal beauty of God’s Kingdom, 
and that all objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul, 
to enquire into the sufficiency and extent of its powers is impertinent. 
But when we know this, 
nothing is more expedient than to consider whether a soul be able to enjoy them. 
Which if it be, its powers must extend as far as its objects. 
For no object without the sphere of its power, 
can be enjoyed by it. 
It cannot be so much as perceived, much less enjoyed. 

'All objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul': that is a policy statement for Christian life on earth. Omnipresence is God's presence; Traherne once again comes close to Saint Francis here. I read him this way: nothing outside the range of the soul can be enjoyed by the soul, indeed if  it is outside the range of the soul, then the soul will be unaware of it. 

But if we reflect, or meditate, as Traherne encouraged us yesterday, we will become aware of more and more connections in creation, and aware that our part in Creation is both infinitesimal and infinite, insignificant and important, passing and eternal.

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28 February: Saint Francis and his blindness.

Francis and the Passion

Rowan Williams said that Christ lived a life-long Passion. It was a passion, both in terms of human suffering – just one example being when the members of his local synagogue tried to kill him by throwing him down a cliff – and in terms of zeal, enthusiasm, living each day to the full; and in terms of love. Saint Francis grasped this idea and tried to live it out, feeling his own response to being alive and loved by God as falling short.

Would we not have compromised on the form the Franciscan order should take; be more practical in many circumstances than Francis was? Let us use this Lent to become conscious of where our compromises go too far.

“St. Francis was a dying man. We might say he was an old man, at the time this typical incident occurred; but in fact he was only prematurely old; for he was not fifty when he died, worn out with his fighting and fasting life. But when he came down from the awful asceticism and more awful revelation of Alverno, he was a broken man.

As will be apparent when these events are touched on in their turn, it was not only sickness and bodily decay that may well have darkened his life; he had been recently disappointed in his main mission to end the Crusades by the conversion of Islam; he had been still more disappointed by the signs of compromise and a more political or practical spirit in his own order; he had spent his last energies in protest.

At this point he was told that he was going blind. If the faintest hint has been given here of what St. Francis felt about the glory and pageantry of earth and sky, about the heraldic shape and colour and symbolism of birds and beasts and flowers, some notion may be formed of what it meant to him to go blind. Yet the remedy might well have seemed worse than the disease. The remedy, admittedly an uncertain remedy, was to cauterise the eye, and that without any anaesthetic. In other words it was to burn his living eyeballs with a red-hot iron. Many of the tortures of martyrdom, which he envied in martyrology and sought vainly in Syria, can have been no worse.

When they took the brand from the furnace, he rose as with an urbane gesture and spoke as to an invisible presence: “Brother Fire, God made you beautiful and strong and useful; I pray you be courteous with me.” If there be any such thing as the art of life, it seems to me that such a moment was one of its masterpieces.

From Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis, by G. K. Chesterton

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27 February: Rain, midnight rain.

Image from SJC

Edward Thomas would walk and walk through the night for the sake of solitude. Tonight, though, he is holed up in a cabin with nothing but the wild rain. Like Saint Francis, he welcomes death, but right now is far from loved ones – or are there only those he once loved?

If there is consciousness of heaven which we can accept or unthinkingly reject, there is an awareness of hell, or of nothingness, that the likes of Edward Thomas and other poets must face down. And that process starts, tentatively, with thinking of other people, thoughts that become prayers for those in need, those whom, deeper down than his despair, he loves still (as we see from other poems.)

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain 
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me 
Remembering again that I shall die 
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks 
For washing me cleaner than I have been 
Since I was born into this solitude. 
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon: 
But here I pray that none whom once I loved 
Is dying to-night or lying still awake 
Solitary, listening to the rain, 
Either in pain or thus in sympathy 
Helpless among the living and the dead, 
Like a cold water among broken reeds, 
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff, 
Like me who have no love which this wild rain 
Has not dissolved except the love of death, 
If love it be towards what is perfect and 
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.
 
"HOME" by Edward Thomas

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29 January: Francis dramatic gestures


St. Francis was not so much a minstrel merely singing his own songs as a dramatist capable of acting the whole of his own play. The things he said were more imaginative than the things he wrote. The things he did were more imaginative than the things he said. His whole course through life was a series of scenes in which he had a sort of perpetual luck in bringing things to a beautiful crisis.

To talk about the art of living has come to sound rather artificial than artistic. But St. Francis did in a definite sense make the very act of living an art, though it was an unpremeditated art. Many of his acts will seem grotesque and puzzling to a rationalistic taste. But they were always acts and not explanations; and they always meant what he meant them to mean. The amazing vividness with which he stamped himself on the memory and imagination of mankind is very largely due to the fact that he was seen again and again under such dramatic conditions. From the moment when he rent his robes and flung them at his father’s feet to the moment when he stretched himself in death on the bare earth in the pattern of the cross, his life was made up of these unconscious attitudes and unhesitating gestures.”

From Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis by G. K. Chesterton.

I feel I often have to adopt conscious attitudes and hesitant gestures, but perhaps I also try to explain myself to myself a bit too often.

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28 January: Praise creation, praise the Creator.

Another reflection from Chesterton on Saint Francis*, who among many other things, could be called a Performance Poet today.

Saint Francis hails the elements with an old familiarity that is almost an old frivolity. He calls them his Brother Fire and his Sister Water. So arises out of this almost nihilistic abyss the noble thing that is called Praise; which no one will ever understand while he identifies it with nature-worship or pantheistic optimism.

When we say that a poet praises the whole creation, we commonly mean only that he praises the whole cosmos. But this sort of poet does really praise creation, in the sense of the act of creation. He praises the passage or transition from nonentity to entity; there falls here also the shadow of that archetypal image of the bridge, which has given to the priest his archaic and mysterious name.

We in the West may be over-familiar with stories of Francis calling up his Brother Fire and his Sister Water, and this partly because we have lost touch with fire and water. How many households are all-electric and possibly only light candles on birthday cakes? Many have nowhere to light a fire, keeping warm and cooking without a flame, at the touch of a switch.

In our everyday lives water is tamed to flow through pipes, to be heated in a closed boiler, disposed of when dirty through more pipes; not the way to treat a sister. Still less the pollution in rivers and the ocean. Maybe we need to listen again.

We praise you, Lord, for all your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
of you Most High, he bears your likeness.
We praise you, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

*Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis” by G. K. Chesterton

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27 January: S/he shall enjoy everything.

Francis and the Spring which flowed to refresh a thirsty peasant who was helping him to travel.

Three extracts from Chesterton’s account of Saint Francis.

It is commonly in a somewhat cynical sense that men have said, “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.” It was in a wholly happy and enthusiastic sense that St. Francis said, “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.” It was by this deliberate idea of starting from zero, from the dark nothingness of his own deserts, that he did come to enjoy even earthly things as few people have enjoyed them; and they are in themselves the best working example of the idea. For there is no way in which a man can earn a star or deserve a sunset.

But there is more than this involved, and more indeed than is easily to be expressed in words. It is not only true that the less a man thinks of himself, the more he thinks of his good luck and of all the gifts of God. It is also true that he sees more of the things themselves when he sees more of their origin; for their origin is a part of them and indeed the most important part of them. Thus they become more extraordinary by being explained. He has more wonder at them but less fear of them; for a thing is really wonderful when it is significant and not when it is insignificant.

From “Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis” by G. K. Chesterton.

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1 January: Francis teaches the gift of thanksgiving.

Ste Anne de Beaupre

Are you worried about the coming year? Are you happy to be alive? What would make you happy? Are you grateful for your existence? Chesterton calls us to learn from Saint Francis how to accept life as a gift from our Creator.

The full and final spirit in which we should turn to St. Francis is the spirit of thanks for what he has done. He was above all things a great giver; and he cared chiefly for the best kind of giving which is called thanksgiving. If another great man wrote a grammar of assent, he may well be said to have written a grammar of acceptance; a grammar of gratitude. He understood down to its very depths the theory of thanks; and its depths are a bottomless abyss. He knew that the praise of God stands on its strongest ground when it stands on nothing. He knew that we can best measure the towering miracle of the mere fact of existence if we realise that but for some strange mercy we should not even exist.”

From “Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis” by G. K. Chesterton.

Photo courtesy of Christina Chase.

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8 December, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XCII: O marvellous thing! Relics XXXI.

A story about childbirth for Advent and Mary’s feast. I am sure Joseph felt anxious as Mary’s due date drew near, and there they were, away from home, with just the ass to keep them company – and bring Mary safely to Bethlehem. (Don’t say the Ass does not appear in the Gospel accounts of the Nativity: would Joseph not have made provision for her comfort?)

Saint Francis sent two friars to dwell at Alvernia; and he sent back with them the peasant, who had come with him behind the ass, which he had lent him, desiring that he should return with them to his home.

The friars went with the peasant and, as they entered the county of Arezzo, certain men saw them afar off, and had great joy thereof, thinking that it was Saint Francis, who had passed that way two days before for one of their women had been three days in travail and could not bring to the birth was dying; and they thought to have her back sound and well, if Saint Francis laid his holy hands upon her.

But, when the friars drew near, the men perceived that Saint Francis was not with them; and they were very sad. Nevertheless, albeit the saint was not there in the flesh, his, virtue lacked not, because they lacked not faith.

O marvellous thing! the woman was dying and was already in her death agony, when they asked the friars if they had anything which the most holy hands of Saint Francis had touched. The friars thought and searched diligently, but could find nothing which Saint Francis had touched with his hands save only the halter of the ass upon which he had come. With great reverence and devotion those men took that halter and laid it upon the belly of the pregnant woman, calling devoutly on the name of Saint Francis and faithfully commending themselves to him. And what more? No sooner had the aforesaid halter been laid upon the woman than, anon, she was freed from all peril, and gave birth joyfully, with ease and safety.

Let us thank God that most women in the West today are unlikely to die in childbirth, and let us pray for women elsewhere who have difficulty in bringing their child to birth, perhaps due to genital mutilation. And let us pray for the women and men striving to abolish this practice. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Image from FMSL

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An Advent Reflection from an old friend

Sister Clare Bernadette Knowles had this reflection published in The Global Sisters Report.

We share two paragraphs, enough, we hope, to send you to the original by following the link.
Sister Clare contributed many of the blog posts signed FMSL. Congratulations, Sister Clare!

Our Creator, whose holy name is “I AM” (Exodus 3:14), wants to meet us in the “now” of our lives. If I am living in the past or fixated on the future, I may miss the gift of God’s grace in the present. Therefore, the Advent liturgies urge me to “stay awake” to God’s presence in every moment “praying at all times” (Luke 21:36).

If I am awake, I cannot fail to notice that the world needs the light of Christ more than ever. Gathering storms of war, terrorism, inequality, ecological crises and a pandemic threaten to overwhelm humanity in my lifetime. It is easy to become discouraged by so much bad news.

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