Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Feast of St. Francis

Today we celebrate the life of St. Francis. Many congregations will do this by having a pet blessing service. Here again, we see a powerful life story reduced to something significantly more mundane. I would argue that the church almost always does this reduction act--and why? Why give up the power of these stories that way? We see that in our approach to Jesus Christ, and in our approach to every other believer who has a dramatic story. Are we afraid of the implications.

We often remember St. Francis because of his work, "The Canticle for the Creatures." Many people see him as one of the early environmentalists. I have no problem with animal rights crusaders and the environmental movement, but it's important to remember that St. Francis spent many years of his early ministry living with lepers and caring for them. He gave up everything he owned--and he was rich--in a quest for a more authentic life. He inspired others to follow the same path, and he founded a religious order that still exists.

In churches that celebrate the life of St. Francis, will we hear these parts of the story? I doubt it. Those are the parts of the story that are threatening to the social order. We can't have young people behaving in the way that St. Francis did. What on earth would happen then?

Our society would be transformed. And one of the ways that Christians have let down their faith, this is one of the most damning: we dampen the transformative message of the Gospel or we dumb it down into some sort of self-help drivel. The Gospel can transform us as individuals, sure, but then we are called to go out and transform our societies. God has called us to do redemptive work.

Instead, many of us will sit through insipid services where people get to bring their pets to church.

For those of you who hunger for something more on this feast day, a year ago, Jan Richardson wrote a moving meditation on St. Francis, complete with one of her illuminations. Go here for a real treat.

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