On behalf of the brothers at San Damiano Friary in San Francisco, I want to thank you all for inviting myself and the Society of St. Francis to be with you today on your patronal feast. We thank you sincerely from the bottom of our hearts for the support St. Francis Parish has shown and continues to show us brothers. Your prayers and financial support help sustain the important work of bringing the Gospel to all people.
I’m joined today by Brother Jude (who many of you already know) as well as one of our two newest brothers—Brother Gregory. Only a few weeks ago, Brother Gregory received the brown habit at our Centenary Celebration in New York City. During the same celebration, our Brother Thomas, who lives in New York at our newest friary at St. Mary the Virgin across from Times Square, took his three traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. God willing in about four years time, he will take solemn vows and become a life-professed brother. We were joined in New York by the Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who delivered a rousing and spirit-filled sermon.
Celebrating Mass was our Bishop Protector, the Right Reverend Robert Fitzpatrick of Hawaii. Alongside him was our Sisters’ Bishop Protector, the Right Reverend Nedi Rivera.
Joining us also were our Franciscan brothers and sisters from all parts of the world, brothers and sisters in religious orders throughout the Anglican Communion, and our brothers and sisters from the Roman Catholic Church.
Last Saturday, we were able to hold a similar celebration for those on the West Coast at Grace Cathedral in downtown San Francisco.
I’m sure after Mass today, any of the brothers can tell you more about our celebration. We are extremely grateful for what this parish has done to be a part of the one hundred year story of Franciscanism in the Episcopal Church. God-willing, we hope you will continue to support us as we journey together for the next one-hundred years.
Today we gather to celebrate the life, work, and ministry of the Poverello, the poor man of Assisi, St. Francis. Born Giovanni Bernardone around 1181, St. Francis is perhaps more well known than any religious figure next only to Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother.
But, if you were to ask people today what they know about St. Francis, you may find they get the saint confused with Dr. Dolittle as if Francis walked around squeaking and squawking with the animals.
Who St. Francis was and what this man stood for is perhaps best summarized in one of his earliest rules of life for the brothers. In 1221 Saint Francis wrote, “The rule and life of these brothers is this, namely; to live in obedience, chastity, and without anything of their own, and to follow the teaching and footprints of our Lord Jesus Christ” (The Earlier Rule, Chapter I, 1221).
Immediate and to the point.
Just like the man himself.
With Francis, there is no beating around the proverbial bush. To live like St. Francis means one thing: to emulate the life of Jesus Christ.
It’s appropriate that today’s Gospel speaks of this simplicity for which St. Francis strived his whole life. When we hear Jesus pray to his Father: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants” (Matthew 11:25), we do not hear a manifesto against intellectualism or a call to remain ignorant about the wider world.
What we hear Jesus saying today is: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me. Follow me. Do not fear. I have the words of everlasting life.”
For St. Francis, his mission to become more like Christ began almost exactly where we are now—at Mass.
On the Feast of St. Matthias the Apostle, many, many years ago, Francis had a revelation while listening to the Gospel appointed for the feast. An early biographer of St. Francis gives a record of that pivotal moment, writing:
“When he heard that Christ’s disciples should not possess gold or silver or money, or carry on their journey a wallet or a sack, nor bread nor a staff, nor to have shoes nor two tunics, but that they should preach the kingdom of God and penance, the holy man, Francis, immediately exulted in the spirit of God. ‘This is what I want,’ he said, ‘this is what I seek, this is what I desire with all my heart” (Thomas of Celano, 1C 22).
For St. Francis, Jesus Christ was and remains the supreme model of our humanity. In Jesus, God has given us the perfect rule and measure of our faith. There simply is no other man or woman or person worth imitating more than Jesus Christ.
As we are reminded in the Gospel according to St. John, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).
There is no other name in heaven or on earth that commands as much love and promise from God as the name of his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (see Acts 4:12).
Jesus alone is the solid ground upon which his Church and our faith is built. And in that Church, the “gates of hell can never prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
And to live like Jesus means we ought to love our neighbor as much as Christ loved us.
“Beloved,” writes the author of 1 John, “since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
Francis repeated this command when he wrote to his brothers saying, “How happy and blessed are those who love God, and do as the Lord himself says in the Gospel: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself’” (Later Admonition and Exhortation to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, ca. 1220).
For us today, there is no greater commandment than these.
There is no mission statement or slogan or objective more worthy of remembrance.
As a community under the patronage of St. Francis, that is your invitation from God today--to emulate the life of Jesus Christ by loving and serving your neighbor as much as Christ loved us.
However, even a brief visit to this parish reveals that I’m very literally preaching to the choir. I don’t have to tell you to put Jesus at the center of your life because so many of you are already doing so.
Here in Turlock, as I’ve mentioned in my past visits, the number of activities and ministries you all are involved in is absolutely incredible.
You all are an example to many parishes, perhaps some even more well off than you but who don’t do nearly as much.
Ministries like: the Food in Faith ministry; the Winter Ministry; your work with the Diocese of Haiti; Operation Blue Santa; as well as Rev. Kathie’s recent newsletter article tying our Episcopal Baptismal Covenant to our response on what is happening on our southern border, are just a few of the many, many examples of how you all demonstrate that Jesus is at the center of this church’s life.
But, it is the people that aren’t here, who may not make Jesus and his love the center of their lives that need to hear this message. And since I can’t be there to preach directly to them, the church needs you, more than ever, to preach that message of love, to preach the message that Francis sought so perfectly to emulate.
You know it’s funny. Growing up the son of a Roman Catholic father and a Baptist mother, I can remember visiting various churches on both sides of my parents’ religious traditions. Any time we’d visit a Roman Catholic Church, one of the first things we’d see is the cross hanging over the altar with Our Lord’s Body on it. And, anytime we’d visit a Baptist church, the body of Jesus would be absent from any cross we’d spot. Some believe that crosses ought not have our Lord’s body. After all, Jesus is now alive and lives to die no more. And we can expect that, when we die too, on that resurrection morning, when all dead in Christ shall rise, we’ll have a new body and we’ll have a new life.
Yet, for Francis, the crucifix served as one of the most powerful reminders of the extent of God’s love for us. It is said that the saint would weep just at the very thought of our Lord’s death.
The crucifix, far from being a sign of our guilt Jesus bore, is an important and vital reminder, not only of our Lord’s Passion, but puts into concrete human terms the extent of God’s love for us.
Even, even for us Prodigal children who for our sins are not worthy in the eyes of the world to be called God’s own, are indeed and always loved and cannot be lost to God.
No one is forever lost.
No one is outside of God’s reach.
Christ ascended the mountain of death and descend into the pits of Hell--where God cannot go--and was raised on the third day, proving that not even the created order has power over the Lord God Almighty.
Even in death, God’s love prevails.
Even from atop the cross, Christ reigns supreme.
“Oh death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
“Indeed,” writes John the Evangelist, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
Even when bad news comes our way, even when we are given terrible news and find out the worst, we know and believe in a God who walks alongside and suffers with his creation. Even in our darkest moments, we are not abandoned by God.
God cannot stop loving us.
It is impossible for him to quit loving what he has so carefully and lovingly made and so gloriously redeemed.
If God stopped loving us, he would cease to be God!
Even the Devil, if he were to come to heaven and ask for forgiveness of God for all the terror and evil committed in the world, we can believe our all-loving, all-forgiving God and Father would just as easily forgive the Devil as God forgives you and me.
“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
And in him.
In Jesus alone is our truth and salvation fully revealed. As a popular modern song of praise relates so beautifully, “In Christ alone my hope is found / He is my light, my strength, my song / This Cornerstone, this solid Ground / Firm through the fiercest drought and storm (In Christ Alone, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend).
Or, as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians, “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20)
Our prayer today ought to be that of Jesus’ to his Father in today’s Gospel. “I thank you, Father,” he says, “Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants...No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:25-30).
Brothers and sisters, today, let us meditate and live out these words of Scripture. Let us live like our holy Father St. Francis by emulating Jesus Christ--the most perfect image of God’s Divine Love.
May our lives bear witness to the Lord’s truth and our lips never cease to proclaim his praise.
May we always and everywhere give praise, glory, honor, blessing, and every good to our God forever and ever. Amen.
Feast of St. Francis
St. Francis Episcopal Church
Turlock, CA October 13, 2019
Brother James Nathaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org