Peace and all good to each and every one of you.
That’s the way Francis of Assisi greeted people—“Peace and all good to you.” A prayer really. A prayer people in his day—and ours as well—needed and still need to hear.
They, like us, lived in turbulent times.
They, like us, were often subject to the whims of capricious leaders and imperious overlords.
They, like us, found themselves in the midst of great change as money began to rule their lives and as the gap between rich and poor widened with a vast and increasingly vulnerable underclass becoming both more visible and more vulnerable.
They, like many of us, found their safety nets slipping away and their sense of place eroding.
Today, we meet Francis in our world marked by incomprehensible violence—not only the violence we saw last Sunday in Las Vegas and the violence of almost weekly mass shootings, but also the daily violence of an epidemic of shooting deaths and life-changing gun injuries.
Today, we meet Francis in our world of extremes—of wealth and poverty, of sickness and health, of hope and hopelessness, a world of insiders and outsiders, a world of death dealing divisions.
A world not unlike the one in which Jesus of Nazareth lived.
Today we celebrate the life of Francis of Assisi who accepted—no welcomed enthusiastically—Jesus’ invitation to take up his yoke and cross and follow him.
When you strain out all the fluff and nonsense that surrounds Francis of Assisi, when you filter out all the wild tales and fanciful stories, when you look closely at his writings and the demonstrable facts of his life, what you find is a delightful and loving and quite shrewd man who loved Jesus above all else, who lived the gospel as best he could, and who preached that gospel by his words and by his life.
Even after you boil off all that Francis malarkey, you get this wonderfully nuanced and deep and deeply loving and quite wise Francis who changed and is still changing worlds like ours simply by the living out of his love of God.
Sometimes I wonder how it came to him. I wonder what it was that moved him from being a young bon vivant to a truly humble servant of the living God. I wonder what it was that turned his heart to God. I wonder when he started seeing the suffering around him and what moved him to respond.
There are those who say it all began in a prison cell in Perugia. They say he came back from that war and that cell a different man. Changed. Not quite a new man but not the youth who went off to war.
Francis himself said, “God allowed me to begin my repentance in this way: when I lived in sin, seeing lepers was a very bitter experience for me. God himself guided me into their midst and among them I performed acts of charity. What appeared bitter to me became sweetness of the soul and body.”
Perhaps Francis’ sense of deep connectedness with God and with God’s entire creation began when he saw that he and the leper before him were one—different but yet the same, distinct but yet connected.
Is it so surprising that some years later after crossing seas and battlefields and human-made boundaries determined by language and religion and features of the land and seas, Francis, returning to Assisi, one day put pen to paper and wrote his wonderful hymn of praise The Canticle of the Sun?
A song that offers praise not only to God but also from God through God’s creation—through Brother Sun and Sister Moon and Brother Wind and Sister Water and Brother Fire and Sister Mother Earth—the created both praising and receiving and passing on praise to and from the Creator and all of creation.
Marvel with me at the man who wrote those words—a man who followed Jesus into enemy camps and lepers’ sores; a man lived humbly and loved deeply serving and leading with an uncommon charity and a spirit of forgiveness, a man who could writes such words while lying sick and blind and in deep sorrow and disappointment. Marvel with me at that extraordinary sense of connectedness fashioned in a world of division and disconnection. Ligaments of love and likeness binding together forces as distinct and disparate as water and fire and sun and wind and life-giving earth and bodily death.
Today I hear those words as an invitation to a life grounded in a deep sense of connection. An invitation that takes on a sense of urgency in the times in which we live. An invitation that asks us to reflect on the bonds that connect us both with those some might see as the lepers of our day and also with the air we breathe, the earth we walk, the waters we drink. And an invitation to explore—as individuals and as this part of the Body of Christ we know as St. Michael’—what a life lived from that point of connection with Christ and with Christ in one another might look like at this moment in our life in community and in our own individual lives. An exploration. A trying on. A listening deeply to the call of Christ. Not a set of answers determined in advance of the conversation but a deep and prayerful and searching and prolonged conversation about where Christ is calling us in relationship with our neighbors—neighbors others spurn and reject.
A few months before he died, my closest seminary friend—a Francis-obsessed deacon—wrote,
“When I start feeling that I am severely diminished and the world is closing in on me, I think of St. Francis at the end of his life. He is very sick, almost blind and is sleeping in a hut in the courtyard of Clare’s St. Damiano. He wakes up one morning, staggers into the open, opens his arms and begins to recite his great hymn to the universe in which he is connected as a fellow sibling to all his brothers and sisters in the universe—Sister Moon and Brother Sun,and all the rest. Not only does it capture the whole world view of the middle ages but it reverberates with the community of the universe. ”
My friend then concluded, “If I can remain part of this universe, I, like Francis, am struggling to be a good Christian.”
A fitting response to Francis’ invitation to connection to God, to one another, and, as my friend David put it. “the community of the universe.”
How shall we respond to Francis’ invitation?