Learning from Brother Francis
Yesterday, was the feast day when Francis of Assisi was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church eight centuries ago. He is one of the most compelling figures of Christianity. Pet Blessings like the one that we will celebrate on October 17th at 11AM are scheduled near the Feast Day of Francis because of his love for animals and creation. The Christian author Katherine Paterson wrote a wonderful children’s book about Francis called Brother Sun, Sister Moon, that highlights Francis’ connection with nature and how he was known for preaching to birds.
Yesterday, in my sermon I talked about how in the Biblical narrative the land and Creation is a non-human character that is much more significant than many Christians realize. Francis and other Christian prophetic reformers brought this to light for the established church who got too caught up in the status quo. Jesus challenged the religious authorities who had become rich landowners by bringing up the land and landowners in his parables, like the ones we’ve been reading on Sundays, as a way of showing them they were not being good stewards.
Francis presented similar challenges to the Roman Catholic church of his time. Even though Francis was the son of a wealthy clothing merchant, he preferred minimal clothing and his followers wore a tunic that was intended to be close to the color of an animal. Inspired by the words of Philippians 2: 7 to be like Jesus in “emptying himself, taking the form of a slave” Francis’ faith practices could be seen as a protest or call to reform the church of his day, that was known for its decadence and the lavish lifestyles of popes and cardinals. He created a new order of followers, including women, who adhered to a simple Regula primitive or Primitive Rule “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps”. This may seem innocent but in the church of his day this practice was controversial and revolutionary, but one that the Catholic church sanctioned and learned from.
One of the parts of Francis’ life that I am interested in is that while Francis is the patron saint of Italy, his name is derived from the word for Frenchman, which was not his given name but something that his Italian father called him, since his mother was a Frenchwoman. Francis, like the biblical character of Ruth, who we are studying at our Bible Study on Tuesday mornings, moved with God and loving relationships through boundaries and stereotypes.
Francis saw humans as God’s children and part of a creation that was bigger than the boundaries invented by mankind. In preaching to animals and creating his order he helped many people see the order of God’s creation and what it looked like for humans to find a peaceful and kind place within it. May we be inspired to do the same as we follow Brother Francis’ example!