Thursday, October 4, 2007

St. Francis of Assisi, Friar and Renewer of the Church

(Art by Jean Fitzgerald of Mulberry, FL)

On this day we remember one of the most beloved saints of Christendom - St. Francis of Assisi. Born in Umbria, Italy in 1182, he died on October 4, 1226 in a little hut attended by a few of his closest followers. His last act was the singing of Psalm 142 (see below). In two years' time after his death, he was recognized formally as a saint, and it has often been said of him that he is "the one saint whom all suceeding generations have agreed in canonizing." His humility, generosity, love of nature, simple and unaffected devotion to God have combined to make him one of the most cherished of all saints."

It is his love of nature that continues to resonate with many early 21st century folk - especially his love for animals. Many churches remember St. Francis with a Blessing of the Animals service (as we do). It is easy to imagine how St. Francis could be captured by the beauty of the creation growing up as he did in Umbria. Here is a contemporary picture ...double click for a larger version.

I am especially reminded today of another Francis - Francis Kline, abbot of Mepkin Abbey, who died this past year. Abbott Francis understood environmental advocacy as part of his call to stewardship of the creation, and, especially so when the government threatened to put an interstate highway right through the fragile and lovely ecosystem of the Cooper River area where Mepkin is located.

It would be quite possible for contemporary environmental advocates to claim St. Francis of Assisi as their patron. One of our members, David Stoney, has become very involved in the issue of global warming. This past week he visited Washington, DC as part of a lobbying effort sponsored by the National Wildflife Federation. Here is the link for the UTube piece about it (David appears several times!)

As St. Francis neared the end of his life, he suffered blindness and serious illness. Yet, even this was redemptive as his greatest desire was to find perfect joy through experiencing the suffering of his Lord.

Psalm 142 - Voce mea ad Dominum

I cry to the LORD with my voice; * to the LORD I make loud supplication.
I pour out my complaint before him * and tell him all my trouble.
When my spirit languishes within me, you know my path; * in the way wherein I walk they have hidden a trap for me.
I look to my right hand and find no one who knows me; * I have no place to flee to, and no one cares for me.
I cry out to you, O LORD; * I say, "You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living."
Listen to my cry for help, for I have been brought very low; * save me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.
Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your Name; * when you have dealt bountifully with me, the righteous will gather around me.

On Oct 4th of 1226, St. Francis was brought out of prison and entered the company of the glorious saints in light. May we follow his example and give thanks for his life.

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