What might St. Francis say about what it means to be a Christian?
reinterpreted by Deborah
in honor of St. Francis of Assisi
The sky is singing
praises to God,
the earth adds its own harmony;
all day long
and throughout the night
their glorious hymn goes on.
These unspoken words
cannot be heard,
not by human ears;
but powerfully echo
across the land
a sweet serenade
sent to far-distant places.
Each morning the sun arises,
clad in finest gold,
to embrace the earth
like a lover;
its unfailing light
the good and the bad alike.
At day’s end
fades from our sky —
as if loathe to say
One last backward glance
to the care
of the dark Watchman
of the night.
All is well;
everything is arranged
as it should be,
by the Creator’s loving,
God’s laws are simple:
share what you have, and
— most of all —
let your heart be filled
The church commemorates the life of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4th. Whether we honor him with a special celebration on that date or not, it seems that everybody likes the little brother from Assisi.
Mention his name and the reactions are predictable: “That was one cool dude.” “What a guy!” “We could sure use some more like him!” “Now there was a man who walked his talk.” Not even the most vehemently critical atheist has the heart to condemn Francis.
After all, what’s not to like? Here is a fellow who responded to Christ’s call unquestioningly, unashamedly, and completely. He surrendered his wealth, his social position, his friends and family.... leaving everything behind in order to follow in the Lord’s footsteps. We also claim Francis as our First Ecologist: a nature mystic who recognized God’s fingerprints in every aspect of creation, and treated all that lives with prayerful reverence.
Kind, compassionate, and good; all that anyone could want to be. Truly a model that we might follow.... with a couple of exceptions.
Francis often slept out in the open or in abandoned churches, wrote lovesongs to the sun and the moon, and preached to the birds. He and his brother friars followed no trade, but traveled through the countryside preaching, singing and begging for food.
Declaring his devotion to “Lady Poverty,” Francis went about dressed in a ragged robe, and sometimes wore nothing at all! He would juggle oranges, stand on his head, and sing and dance on street corners — talking about God’s love all the while.
If Francis acted like that nowadays, he’d be considered a nut, and might be locked up. Nobody would call him a saint.
Francis is a creature utterly apart from us; we label him a “saint,” a one-off, an extremist, a holy lunatic. We can’t possibly achieve the same standard of Christian faithfulness as this magnificent maniac. And if we tried .... well, we’d probably get arrested.
I thought about that this morning as I turned on the air conditioning, sat down in a comfortable chair and sipped my tea. It is a worrying notion: Francis set the bar so high that who among us can presume to call herself a Christian? Should I rend my clothes, sell all I have and go sit on a street corner with my dog, singing hymns to passersby?
“Don’t be silly,” said a rather high-pitched male voice.
I looked over, and there, sitting across from me was a short, balding fellow dressed in a brown habit. There was an unmistakable glow about him, a radiance, and I knew at once: “Oh my God. I mean ... my gosh. Is that you, Father Francis?”
“Not ‘father,’ never father — only brother Francis, my sister.” When he smiled he looked about eight years old; young and with an air of mischief about him. “You were considering taking up life on the street?” he asked, a twinkle in his eye, “the dog would never survive it; she’s accustomed to a sleeping indoors.”
“Well, you did it. And you are like... the main man. The Christian.”
“Phooey!” Francis shook his head, “As Mark Twain said, ‘there’s only been one Christian, and they caught him and crucified him — early.’ The rest of us just do the best we can.”
“Yeah, and my best is nothing like your best. Nobody I’ve ever met can compare to you.”
He tapped his finger impatiently on the table, “Where does it say in the Gospels that we are to compare ourselves against each other? It’s not about comparisons or competition: we are to encourage one another to do our best; praising God as best we can, spreading the Good News as far as we can, each of us in our own particular way.”
“Consider the lilies of the field,” Francis continued with a wink, “or the poppies, since that’s what grows around here; they give praise to God by being poppies: shining forth in orange glory in celebration of each new dawn. Nobody would expect them to behave like oak trees or eagles or dolphins. That simply wouldn’t work. They do their best as poppies.”
“Besides, I know you can’t juggle or carry a tune,” his smile was so warm and kind that my heart felt like dancing, “So the whole street corner hymn-sing idea would be a wash.”
I nodded, sheepishly.
“Take a lesson from our furry sister,” Francis gestured toward the floor; Nellie dog had nestled at his feet, and was gazing up at him adoringly.
“Welcome the stranger, make him feel comfortable and at home,” the little saint looked deep into my eyes, “You know what our Lord said: Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength ...”
“and love your neighbor as yourself.” I finished.
In the quiet that followed I thought about neighbors, and poppies, and dogs, and about how each one of us is called to be faithful. When I looked up again the chair across from me was empty.... but the sense of gentle, loving acceptance lingered on.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
How can you — personally and particularly — proclaim the Good News?