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A revised précis of a sermon delivered at the Liberal Catholic Church of Saint Francis, Gordon, New South Wales, Australia, on 27 April 2008, being the Dedication Anniversary of the Church of Saint Francis - published in Communion [The Magazine of the Liberal Catholic Church in Australasia (includes Indonesia)], Vol 26, No 3, Michaelmas 2008 – Copyright Ian Ellis-Jones 2008 – All Rights Reserved.

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  1. 1. SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI A Saint for Today’s Troubled World A revised précis of a sermon delivered at the Liberal Catholic Church of Saint Francis, Gordon, New South Wales, Australia, on 27 April 2008, being the Dedication Anniversary of the Church of Saint Francis Published in Communion [The Magazine of the Liberal Catholic Church in Australasia (includes Indonesia)], Vol 26, No 3, Michaelmas 2008 By The Rev. Dr Ian Ellis-Jones “Don’t change the world. Change worlds.” - St Francis of Assisi.Francis of Assisi was born at Assisi, in Umbria, a region of central Italy, on 26September 1181 (some standard sources say 1182), and died on 3 October1226, aged 46 years of age. Unlike the popular images that have penetrated theconsciousness of most people over time, Francis was very much a man of action,and in his younger years was almost entirely devoted to hedonism in variousforms. He had dreams of becoming a knight, so in 1201 he took part in a militaryexpedition in the form of an attack on Perugia but was taken hostage for a year.Around 12o5 he enlisted in another military expedition to Apulia. During thisperiod his health, particularly his emotional health, suffered greatly, and heturned to religion.Francis had a number of dreams in which he heard God calling him to service ofvarious kinds, so he returned to Assisi to care for the sick. In 1206 Francis had avision in which he heard the voice of Christ speaking to him from a crucifix andcalling upon him to “repair my Church”. At first Francis interpreted this vision tomean that he was being called upon to repair the church of nearby San Damiano,which had fallen into disrepair. Later Francis came to realize that he was being
  2. 2. 2called upon to carry out repairs of an altogether different kind, that is, repairs tothe church as a whole. (The literal approach often gets us nowhere.)Francis was never ordained a ministerial priest, nor did he wish to form an orderas such, even though in time one was formed. Francis decided to live by the ruleof poverty referred to in Matthew 19:21 (“… If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell thatthou hast, and give to the poor … and come and follow me”). He gave away allhis worldly possessions including his shoes, his walking staff and belt, and beganto live a life of radical penance, manifesting itself in a deep spirit of poverty,simplicity and humility. Francis said to his bishop, “If we had any possessions weshould need weapons and laws to defend them.”Francis’s life of penance was almost evangelical in its fervor and purpose,namely, to lead people to God in Christ. Now, the word “penance” is muchmisunderstood, but it literally means conversion. It involves much more thanascetic acts such as fasting. For Francis, a life of penance was a way of life,involving a radical self-emptying and self-surrender, open to constant changeunder the daily guidance of the Divine. It was also a life of service to the poor, thedisabled, and the marginalized in society, one of his first actions after hisconversion being to care for lepers. Francis believed that deeds were moreimportant than creeds. He said, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unlessour walking is our preaching.”Francis, who was canonized on 16 July 1228, in Assisi, by Pope Gregory IX, isthe patron saint of, yes, animals, but also ecology. In 1979 Francis wasproclaimed by Pope John Paul II as the patron of ecology, and was cited by thePope as “an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation”.Further, in Renewing the Earth, a document published by the United StatesCatholic Bishops in 1982, Saint Francis was praised for being ahead of his time.The document declared, among other things:
  3. 3. 3 Safeguarding creation requires us to live responsibly in it, rather than managing creation as though we are outside it.Francis saw the Divine not only “in all the peoples of [the] earth” but also in allcreated things, and he sought a reconciliation of all creation with both humanityand with God. He said, “Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.” Hesought to render all things holy, even poverty. Part of Francis’s love for andappreciation of the environment is expressed in his Canticle of the Sun, part ofwhich is as follows: All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made, And first my lord Brother Sun, Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him. … How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness. All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars; In the heavens you have made them, bright And precious and fair. All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, … All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water, So useful, lowly, precious, and pure. All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire, Through whom you brighten up the night. … All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother, Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces Various fruits and coloured flowers and herbs. … Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks, And serve him with great humility.Francis not only recognized the sun, moon, stars, trees, birds and animals as hisspiritual brothers and sisters, he would talk to them lovingly and personally. Hesaw himself as part of the ecosystem, and refused to entertain any silly notions ofthere being some sort of supposed distinction between the “natural” and the so-called “supernatural”. The very fact that he referred to all creatures and created
  4. 4. 4things as “brothers” and “sisters” shows that he regarded them as equals and notas subjects over which he was some sort of master exercising some sort ofdominion (cf Gen 1:26, 28). All creation, indeed all life, was sacred and holy …and not something evil to be despised and rejected like many traditional orthodoxChristians have done. How very appropriate in these troubles days of globalwarming and the like.Like all the great “God-intoxicated” Christian mystics Francis was filled with adeep reverence and awe for God as manifested in all animate and inanimateobjects. Nothing was mundane to him, rather the whole world is filled with thewonder and majesty of God. Max Scheler, German writer and philosopher, wrote,“St Francis saw even in a bug the sacredness of life.” The saint would often belost in religious ecstasy for whole days and nights, his only words being, “My Godand my All; my God and my All.” An interesting sidelight is that, according tomany sources, Francis believed in reincarnation. Whether that be true or not, hecertainly saw all creation as being a sacred ladder (cf Jacob’s ladder) by meansof which one could ascend to one’s Creator.Finally, Francis was ahead of his time in ecumenism. This Church - the LiberalCatholic Church - sees good in most, if not all, all of the world’s major religions,sensibly interpreted, and seeks to embody reconciliation and peace in all itsendeavours. Francis did likewise. In the middle of a battle during the FifthCrusade Francis made a valiant attempt to stop the crusades by seeking out apersonal dialogue with a Muslim sultan in Syria, his aim being to make peaceand offer reconciliation and love. The sultan was greatly impressed … andmoved. He told Francis, “I would convert to your religion which is a beautiful one– but both of us would be murdered.”The beautiful prayer for peace traditionally called The Prayer of Saint Franciswas almost certainly not written by Francis, but it faithfully embodies all of hisspiritual ideals and values:
  5. 5. 5Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.Where there is hatred, let me sow love;where there is injury, pardon;where there is doubt, faith;where there is despair, hope;where there is darkness, light;and where there is sadness, joy.O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seekto be consoled as to console;to be understood as to understand;to be loved as to love.For it is in giving that we receive;it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen -oo0oo-