Wednesday, September 30, 2009

St. Francis

Probably the most popular thing that most people know about St. Francis is his love of animals. His image is placed in countless gardens to watch over the birds, butterflies, gophers, and rabbits. And that part of his life is true. He had an amazing ability to appreciate the joys of creation. Indeed, his most popular hymn is “All Creatures of our God and King” in which he extols all of God’s good creation to sing out in praise of her creator.

One of my favorite stories of Francis concerns his interaction with a rabbit (written by a contemporary in the 13th century):

One day a brother brought a rabbit who had been caught in a trap to St. Francis. Francis advised the rabbit to be more alert in the future, then released the rabbit from the trap and set it on the ground to go its way. But the rabbit hopped back up onto Francis’ lap, desiring to be close to the saint.

Francis took the rabbit a few steps into the woods and set it down. But it followed Francis back to his seat and hopped on his lap again! Finally Francis asked one of his fellow friars to take the rabbit far into the woods and let it go. That worked. This type of thing happened repeatedly to Francis—which he saw as an opportunity to praise the glory of God. If the simplest creatures could be so endowed with God’s wonder, how much the more so we humans!

There are other numerous stories about Francis’ encounter with animals, and how he loved to preach to the birds.

What is less well known is how Francis was born into a wealthy family, and was, for his first 25 years or so, a “happy hedonist.” He spent his days gaming, drinking, carousing, and cavorting. He fought in wars and aspired to be a knight. It was while he was heading out to participate in one of the Crusades that Christ began to work on Francis’ heart and bring about a conversion that would influence the world.

As one author put it so well,
“Francis de Assisi followed his calling gladly and without resentment. His Earthly sacrifices were not seen as a burden to him but as a natural path towards oneness with creation and the Creator. His story is perhaps most powerful in that he was a young man with every worldly thing going for him - his family was wealthy, his friends saw him as a fearless soldier, he was a natural leader, and he enjoyed the pleasures of the earth. Yet he sacrificed everything for his heartfelt beliefs and took it upon himself to care for all creation….By doing so, he gained much more….
He is a heroic example of sacrifice, of selflessness, of humility…”

We will remember St. Francis at Redeemer in Bakersfield on Sunday, October 4th, with a blessing of the animals at Noon. Bring your dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs, mice, rabbits, horses (whatever!) to remember God’s love toward all his creatures.

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