Today we celebrate the life of St. Francis. 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 two religious orders that still thrive.
Who are our modern day lepers? The homeless? The mentally ill who can't find medication? The elderly? What modern sicknesses scare us the way that leprosy scared us for hundreds of years?
Lately, I've been thinking about the care we offer our pets and contrasting that care with the amount of care we give ourselves. We often do no better at taking care of ourselves than we do of taking care of the poor and outcast of our society. I've known more than one person who cooked better meals for their dogs than they do for themselves. You can probably offer similar examples: humans who make sure that their pets see dentists, even when the human members of the family don't take care of their teeth, dogs who see therapists, pets who get wonderful treats that humans deny themselves--the list could go on and on.
Will your congregation celebrate the life of St. Francis by having a service where pets are blessed? Will it be its own service or will it be a bring-your-pet-to-church service?
What do we do about the animals that aren't so easy to love? How do we handle humans who aren't so easy to love? St. Francis shows us a model; can we follow it?
Why is it so hard to achieve balance in our societies? Why can't we take care of the destitute in the same way we take care of our pets? Why does self-care often fall to the bottom of our to-do lists? Why do we practice self-care and then not do the larger work of caring for the world? Why do so many of us care for creation so badly or not at all?
What would we be willing to give up if it meant we could have a more authentic life? What benefits might we find? What paths should we consider that we haven't pondered yet?
Here's a prayer that I wrote for today:
Creator God, we don't always take good care of your creations. Please give us the generosity of St. Francis as we wrestle with the best way to use our resources. Please open our hearts the way you opened the heart of St. Francis so that we can take care of the members of our society who are at the lowest levels. Please give us the courage to create communities which will allow the light of Christ to shine more brightly.