We have just passed Michaelmas and the Feasts of the Archangels and the Guardian Angel. This leaves today! Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Assisi is a small town in Umbria, Italy where the basilicas of Francis, Clare, and Our Lady of the Flowers reside. I had the pleasure of visiting there many years ago, and much about it has stayed on my mind.
For one thing, I saw the tiny, now-ornamented chapel Francis built when he heard the following:
“Renew My church.”
Francis heard the words clearly, and set about doing just what he’d heard. He began by building a tiny chapel over the ruins of another, ancient church. The world, and the Church-as-world, seemed beset by corruption, and Francis became determined to renew the heart of the religion he loved.
Franciscans the world over have interpreted these words to mean different things: Renew my church.
There are Franciscan Sisters outside of Pittsburgh—Millvale?— I met and loved. While I was with the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Millvale Franciscans made a space for us to be on retreat together.
They also served the poor in various ways, and I’m sure, still do. They held their money in common. They taught school and were lawyers and doctors and nurses. These are some of the ways they worked to renew the Church.
The Life of Francis
I particularly enjoyed the hallway in their Motherhouse adorned with prints of images from the life of St. Francis.
St. Francis and St. Clare. (Now associated with “The Poor Clares.”)
St. Francis taming the Wolf of Gubbio.
St. Francis preaching under the tree—“Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words.”
St. Francis refusing his father’s money, and disrobing before the bishop.
And St. Francis’ tiny chapel in the enormous Basilica of St. Francis.
Even Unitarian Universalists appreciate Francis. All over the country, Unitarian Universalist congregations have taken up the practice of the Blessing of the Animals. Some do it near Francis’ feast day. Others do it some other Sunday. But nearly all talk about Francis’ devotion to animals and Nature as a whole.
One of the places Francis gets his reputation as a lover of Earth and patron saint of “the Environment,” is the “Canticle of Brother Sun.” Francis is its acknowledged author, with its verses praising the wonders of sun, water, Mother Nature, etc.
However, Francis is not the author of “The Prayer of St. Francis.” To my knowledge, that prayer, “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace…” was written hundreds of years in the early 20th century. Its questionable provenance does nothing to stop its comforting thousands of people, perhaps millions, each year. In fact, it is the first prayer some children learn.
For my part, I was in the St. Francis Girls’ Choir, and sang the “Peace Prayer” more times that I can count from the time I was 8 until I was 16. And the Peace Prayer was indeed the first prayer I learned after those associated with the Rosary, young and diligent Catholic girl I was.
Are you fond of Francis of Assisi? Do you smile when you see his statuary in gardens, his hands held out in love, waiting to feed the birds?