I want to thank this congregation for, first and foremost, supporting the brothers of the Society of St. Francis through your prayers and financial support. Thank you for allowing us brothers the opportunity to preach here and to know we have a home tucked away here in this little part of California. Your presence and involvement in your parish and community provides a witness for the Episcopal Church and the brothers.
Today, we commemorate the life, work, and ministry of Saint Francis of Assisi. To give a complete account of this man’s life and impact he has had on the church would be inappropriate for a single Sunday sermon. So much has been written about the poor man from Assisi that I reckon the only people whose lives have received more attention is Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. Perhaps no other figure in Christendom has received so much attention for so simple a message: a message that I want to share with you today.
To begin, I want to first confess that my brothers and myself often find ourselves embarrassed to wear the brown habit. We’re embarrassed not because of the habit itself or because we feel we’ll stick out in the already eccentric city of San Francisco. I confess that we are embarrassed because we sometimes sit and wonder if St. Francis, if he were alive today, would be counted as one of the members of the Franciscan family. Would St. Francis be a Franciscan?
In some ways, it’s an impossible question because the Franciscan family has gone through so many organic and gradual changes that have spread it beyond its Roman Catholic roots. In addition to the many different Roman branches of Franciscans, there are of course Anglican Franciscans, Lutheran Franciscans, and also an order of Ecumenical Franciscans from various religious denominations. There’s also an untold number of people who choose to embrace quote un-quote Franciscan values in their everyday lives. It sometimes feels as if the number of Franciscans in the world is exceeded only by the amount of money the Jesuits are said to secretly possess.
Today, St. Francis is not the exclusive property of a single religious order or denomination. Francis’ ideas transcend religious, cultural, and spacial differences. Francis’ ideas about God and our places in God’s creation attract so wide a following because, at its heart, the heart of the Franciscan message is simple.
“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; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
One idea of Francis and the one that is commonly associated with his feast day is the inherent holiness Francis had for all of God’s creation.
“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31.
In this good earth, we humans were invited to dwell. Over billions of years and through countless ages, we were formed of the earth’s materials and received the breath of God, the life essence of our Creator’s very self. Men, women, and all our friends born in-between were created in the image and likeness of God. When we reread the accounts of creation in Genesis, we glimpse a God whose very nature is to give and to show a reflection of Himself in His creation. We glimpse a God whose very nature is Love Itself. We glimpse a God who would not be bound by Eternal space and time in order to more intimately dwell with His creation. The writings of Blessed John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan Medieval philosopher, talk about a God who came down to earth, not because we had sinned and were in need of a Savior, but because ever since the beginning of time, God intended to come to make His home with us. Counting all the hairs on our head, or feeling the breath on our lips, or numbering the tears we’ve ever cried was simply not enough for God. For our God longed even more to dwell among His creation; to experience His creation in an even more intimate way as one of us.
God’s feet walked on the Earth with Jesus Christ. This frail, fragile sack of bones, blood, and the occasional overactive thyroid gland became a holy, living tabernacle for the Lord of all Creation. For St. Francis, the Incarnation or birth of our Lord, signaled that we, humanity, as prone to sin and as fallen as we became, we were going to be okay. God’s act of love to us and the message of hope in the Person of Jesus was ALWAYS written in the Book of Time. It was no longer a question of “If” God might come to more intimately dwell with us, but “When.”
Jesus teaches us how we ought to live. It is Jesus who provides us with the greatest example of what Love can be for us humans. It is because we know Jesus that we can know the Father.
“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.”
For St. Francis, we, the members of the Body of Christ, the Church, are bound in an intimate union with God. Saint Francis was so devoted to the Church, the Bride of Christ, because, not only is the Church a visible symbol of God’s continued presence here among us, the Church is the presence of God made visible here on Earth. Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical, God is Love, says this concerning the Church visible:
“[The Lord] encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church's Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives.”
For St. Francis, as in our own time, the ones whom society says demand the least attention are precisely the ones we ought to love first. For St. Francis, his interaction with the lepers helped him see the crucified Christ present in their lowly estate. In our own time, who is it whose mere presence we find revolting? Whom do we find it is easy to just forget? Who is it we are constantly ignoring and casting aside?
What I appreciate about your parish so much is your willingness to give and give of yourselves to each other and to the community. I mentioned in my last sermon with you all here the great number of events and organizations that your parish is involved with. It’s evident that your parish doesn’t just see service to others as a nice slogan to put on the church website or on a pamphlet, but it is a living, breathing reality of this parish.
“We love them,” you all might say, “because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
For St. Francis, the response of God’s grace demanded his entire life be devoted to the service of God and the People of God. The Rule of 1223, which is one of the foundational documents for all Franciscans today, begins so simply:
“The rule and life of the lesser brothers is this,” he says, “To observe the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus...”
For St. Francis, the response of God’s great love for him demanded all he had in the service of God and neighbor. That was his goal, to perfectly reflect the love of God back to others. Not like a fogged or translucent mirror which reflects only a partial image, but a smoothed and polished mirror which reflects the entirety of the image back. The Spanish saint, Josemaria Escriva, once said to his students, “How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.”
Saint Francis abandoned all so that he might gain a share of Eternity. We ought, therefore, also absorb so completely the teachings of Christ who offers us every day anew to return to Him and to dwell more peacefully with His Creation.
As we gather today to share in Christ’s Body and Blood, let us reflect on and pray that we may strive to remember our place as heirs in God’s royal family. May we remember to see the immeasurable beauty of God present in every human being and in all creation. May our cup overflow with love and be poured out and shared with the created world. May we long to dwell more intimately with the God who longs so dearly to dwell with us.
St. Francis Parish
October 7, 2018
Feast of St. Francis
First Reading: Jeremiah 22:13–16
Second Reading: Galatians 6:14–18
Gospel: Matthew 11:25–30