Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

Instruments of Peace

Readings: Job 9:1-16; Psalm 148:7-14; Galatians 6:14-18; Matthew 11:25-30

The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to 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.

When I was studying theology one of my assignments was to find the source of the Prayer of St. Francis, to trace it back to its origins. Having grown up listening the stories of St. Francis and in particular to “The Little Flowers”, I thought that it would be an easy task. I would simply look back through his writings and find the prayer. I found a lovely prayer of St. Francis. It was called “The Canticle of the Sun”. I recognized it right away. It is a favourite hymn. We know it as “All Creatures of our God and King”. No matter how hard I hunted through the writings of St. Francis I simply could not find what we know as his prayer.

Then in my research I began to come across some references to it. They were from the First World War. Strange! I thought, and continued to search thinking I must be mistaken. Everything bore it out. One story was that it was found in the trenches in France handwritten on a card bearing the picture of St. Francis of Assisi. It was published anonymously in 1912 in a French magazine, La Clochette and is possibly written by a Roman Catholic priest, Father Bouquerel. That it remained connected to our patron saint is no mystery. The prayer, if not written by him, certainly reflects his life. It reflects the way he lived. It reflects who he was.

He was an instrument of peace in a fractured world. To be an instrument of peace means to be an advocate of those in our society who are suffering, the poor, the hungry, the abused. Francis gave up a life of luxury and privilege to live in poverty and to help those who are on the very fringes of society. As a young man, he once came across a leper. He found himself totally repulsed by the man's condition. He fled in horror. But then thinking better of it, he went back, embraced the man and gave him all the money he had.

His sense of peace drew other like minded people to him. They embraced his way of life. He founded a religious order for men called the Friars Minor, the Poor Clares, an order for women, and the Third Order, a Franciscan order of lay people wanting to live a life of simplicity and dedication to the poor and those in need within the context of their own lives.

So many of the stories of his life speak of how he helped to light the spark of faith in peoples' lives. He said that we should “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” One day he suggested to one of the novices that they go into town and preach. He was overjoyed at being asked by Francis to accompany him on this little mission. They walked together through every part of the town, finally returning to the monastery. The novice reminded Francis that they had gone out to preach, and had not spoken one word.

My son,” Francis replied, “we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We have been seen by many; our behavior has been closely watched; it was thus that we have preached our morning sermon. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk.”

He knew the joy of embracing hope. It comes through in his love of all God's creation. Francis knew the awesome power of our creator God. His affinity with nature came from that deep love of God. Like the birds and animals with whom he communed, he lived a life unburdened by possession. He searched for perfect joy, not by owning things, but by owning nothing. His thankful heart did not come about by having possessions, but by abandoning things and embracing God. His call to us, “Don’t worry! Be happy!” speaks to our materialistic society of a more fulfilling, happier way to live. Joy for Francis lies in not having to worry about wealth.

Yet he also knew from his own life what it meant to despair. Some biographers have attributed it to his disillusionment at the behaviour of the Crusaders. Whatever caused it, he withdrew for a time from the world. It was St. Clare who was able to draw him out of his despair. Even at the darkest times of his life, times of pain, he felt that sense of divine joy.

One of the things that I find most reassuring about our patron saint, is his humanity. His is a story, not about some “holier than thou” saint, whom I can never hope to emulate, but of someone who is totally human in his becoming. Francis truly experienced reconciliation. He experienced the transformation that God can bring about through conversion.

Francis's conversion was a dramatic one. He was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. He grew up with a life of ease and privilege. A time of sickness and a period of military service led him to reflect on his life. One day he was in the church of San Damiano. He heard Christ saying to him, "Francis, build my church." He took the words literally. He sold a bale of silk from his father's warehouse to pay for repairs to the church. His father was irate. He confronted him and disowned him for what he had done. Francis in turn renounced his father's wealth. He left his home and his life of luxury wearing only the clothes on his back. There is even a story that he took off all of his clothes so that he would take nothing with him of his old life. He declared himself "wedded to Lady Poverty", and devoted himself to serving the poor.

As Christians we are called to turn the world upside down, to bring about the impossible. Where there is hatred, to bring love. To bring resolution and peace where there is discord. To bring hope into lives that are living in despair. To bring light into a world of darkness. To change sadness into joy.

Make me a channel of your peace” is our parish motto. It holds a wonderful truth about peace. We often think that we can do nothing to bring about peace. The world is in too much of a mess. I am only one person. I don’t know where to begin. But the reality of our faith is that we are not passive recipients, but active instruments of peace. That is so important for us to understand, to really take in.

What does it mean to be a channel of God’s peace in a broken and troubled world? The only way we can confront the difficulties and troubles of the world, the lack of peace, the disunity both in society and in the Christian Church, is by throwing off our helplessness and being bearers of peace, and of hope, and of love in the world. It begins by being bearers of peace in our own place. The call to peace is a call to justice. Differences, distinctions and divisions are present not only in society at large, but also within the Church. Such divisions can exclude people from fellowship within the community. We continue to face many important issues that could divide the Church. We need to search for common perspectives among our diverse theological approaches, as we keep alive the prophetic ministry of Christ. So Lord, make us channels of your peace.

Today we celebrate a wonderful saint. We celebrate the Good News of Christ. We worship God, serve our world and our community and strive to be instruments of peace. We know ourselves to be forgiven. We strive to be forgiving. As we travel on our journey we recognize our need to rebuild the Church of God. It starts with our church here in Meadowvale, this place that nurtures us. As we bring Grace into the communion of Christ, as we renew our baptismal covenant, we try to emulate our patron saint. We remember that it is not just about this building. It is about being the Church in the world. It is about our ministry together. It is about being a welcoming and nurturing community of faith. It is about serving beyond our four walls in our community. It is about openness to the Spirit of God working through us. It is about seeing Christ in others and allowing Christ to be seen in us.

May we grow in grace and in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that beautiful sermon. These are difficult time for all of us. Here in the U.S. we are struggling as the ugly side of humanity is showing itself in our elections. We're seeing our freedoms attacked, we're seeing hatred welling up and being fostered by our 'leaders.' I pray today more than ever that I might be an instrument of peace and that I can be a conduit of God's love and light. God bless you and God bless all of creation!

Albert Fanelli, Miami, Florida

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