Saturday, October 4, 2014

Inspirations on the Feast Day of Saint Francis

Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis.  I'm amazed at what Francis managed to accomplish, as I am amazed at what so many of those medieval Christians could accomplish, without the help of computers or motorized vehicles or penicillin.

Let's take a minute and think about what St. Francis did and how that might inspire our own modern lives.

--Francis is most associated with love of animals, which may explain his enduring popularity.  Churches across the world will celebrate his feast day by having services where people are welcome to bring their pets for a blessing. 

Today is a good day to think about the role of pets in our lives and to think about how we feel about less cuddly animals.  Should we welcome pets into our churches on a more regular basis?  After all, many church members may feel closer to their pets than to their family members.  I realize the impossible logistics of opening our buildings to animals, so I'm not seriously suggesting it, except as a way to think about how we feel about pets and how we feel about animals.

--And as we're thinking about animals, we might also think about others whom we don't or can't welcome into our church buildings.  Francis is also known for his work with lepers, the sick who are the lowest on the totem pole.

As I write this, I'm listening to a discussion of Ebola and I'm thinking about Ebola victims as being a modern example of the leper.  How would Francis direct us to treat these patients?  And how should we care for African countries that are overwhelmed by this disease?

--Francis came from a very wealthy family, a family he renounced in solidarity with society's poor and outcast.  He lived amongst the lowest of the low, and ministered to their needs, spending his wealth to help care for them.

Although we may not feel like it, if we're citizens of developed countries, we're in a similar situation to Francis.  We come from a place of great wealth and privilege compared to poorer countries.  How can we use our wealth and privilege to care for those who are outcast?

--Francis worked to help end the Crusades.

It's a good day to think about the social justice movements that need attention in our own day.  It's a good day to think about modern wars and the sweep of destruction.  We might also think about just wars, the kind that many Crusaders would tell you that they were fighting.  What's the best way to rescue populations that are invaded?  Or should we intervene at all?

--Francis has come to be associated with the environmental movement, in part because of his love of animals, in part because he liked to visit ruined parts of society.

Today is a good day to think about our planet, much of which is already ruined.  We might think about the fact that we're living in the Holocene Extinction, one of 5-7 times in our planet's history where we know we're losing species at a far faster, and perhaps catastrophic, rate. 

 --Francis created the first Nativity scene, what we might today call a living Nativity scene, complete with real animals.  His scenes were inspired by paintings of the Nativity scene (think Jesus in a manger, surrounded by those who loved him and some animals).  He wanted visitors to feel the full engagement of all their senses.  We might think of Francis as an early performance artist or maybe someone who created a piece of installation art.

For many of us, the time between now and the new year will be full of opportunities for celebrating holidays.  We can do it the way we always have or we can think about new ways of celebrating.

--Francis created three religious orders, two of which exist today, centuries after he created them.  Several times during his life, Francis had to write a rule book for how the communities would live together.  Those ideals have survived to this day.

For me, this accomplishment is the most impressive.  We live in a world where few of us can stay committed to even the small community which is our family.  The minute we're dissatisfied with any of our communities, our response is often to leave.  How would the world be transformed if we committed ourselves anew to developing and deepening community?

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.

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