St. Francis Day
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
October 4, 2020
St. Francis is by far one of the most beloved saints in the history of the Church. He’s primarily known for his love for animals as is depicted in the beautiful window in the back of the church, but a deeper dive into his life and ministry reveals a much more complex saint whose simple-and-yet-radical life of devotion to Christ has so much to offer us today.
Francis was born in the year 1181, one of several children of an Italian father and a French mother. His father Pietro was in France on business when Francis was born in Assisi, Italy, and his mother had him baptized as Giovanni. When Pietro returned home, he changed his son’s name to Francesco, likely because of his love for all things French.
Francis’s father was a wealthy silk merchant, and he grew up amongst rich friends with a love of worldly pleasures. He was handsome and charming and loved by all around him. Fulfilling a hope of his father’s, he, too, fell in love with all things French – the songs, the romance, and especially the troubadours of France who wandered around Europe at the time. He longed to be a knight, and when Assisi declared war on the nearby town of Perugia, Francis joined the war effort at age 20. Most of the troops from Assisi were killed, but those wealthy enough to be ransomed were taken prisoner. After a year in prison, he was ransomed, and still wanted to be a nobleman. As he left to go join the papal forces in their war against the Emperor, he had a dream in which God called him to renounce his worldly pleasure and return to Assisi. His conversion wasn’t immediate. But, he began to actively seek out God.
One day, in the church of Saint Damian, he seemed to hear Christ saying to him, "Francis, repair my falling house." He took the words literally, and sold a bale of silk from his father's warehouse to pay for repairs to St. Damian’s. His father was outraged, and there was a public confrontation at which his father disinherited and disowned him, and he in turn renounced his father's wealth. One account says that he not only handed his father his purse, but also took off his expensive clothes, laid them at his father's feet, and walked away naked. He declared himself "wedded to Lady Poverty", renounced all material possessions, and devoted himself to serving the poor.
Throughout his life, he was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and contemplation, and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He ultimately decided on the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. Francis and his companions took literally the words of Christ when he sent his disciples out to preach:
Preach as you go, saying, "The kingdom of Heaven is at hand." ... You have received the Gospel without payment, give it to others as freely. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, no spare garment, nor sandals, nor staff.
The simplicity of his self-imposed poverty, and his utter devotion to serving the poor, is striking. If there was a simple way, no matter how impossible it seemed, Francis would take it. For example, when he wanted approval for his newly-founded Order, he went straight to Rome to see the Pope. The pope, seeing a beggar, threw Francis out. But he persisted, not only getting an audience with him, but he ultimately convinced the pope to give him a license to preach (something that deacons like him were not typically allowed to do at the time).
Francis considered all nature as the mirror of God, and called all creatures “brothers and sisters.” In one of the many stories about him that has endured, he preached to the birds and persuaded a wolf to stop attacking the townsfolk and their livestock if they would only agree to feed the wolf. As we know, Francis is the patron of animals which is how the tradition of blessing pets on his feast arose.
While he is most famous for his love and respect for Christ as seen in the animals and in creation, Francis’s love for Christ in the Holy Eucharist was deep. He was never ordained priest. From his writings about how priests should be respected because by their hands the Eucharist is confected, it isn’t a stretch to believe that he never got ordained because he thought himself unworthy of the holy work entrusted to priests. He said this in a letter to the priests in his Order: “O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble himself like this and hide under the form of a little bread, for our salvation!”
During his final years, he gave up his role as superior of his order and lived as an ordinary brother. His years of poverty and wandering caught up with him, and he became ill, going blind and suffering from the first recorded case of the stigmata, or the appearance of painful wounds on the body corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus.
St. Francis not only cared for the poor, he became poor and identified with them. He embraced suffering for his Lord, the Lord that he adored in the Most Holy Sacrament. As we prepare ourselves to receive communion by hearing God’s word read and preached, by confessing our sins and our weakness, let us ask God for the grace to offer give our whole selves to him. Let us ask God for the grace to hear his voice wherever it may be heard, and to respond with Francis’ utter devotion and simplicity. St. Francis, pray for us!
 This paragraph comes from: http://www.satucket.com/lectionary/Francis_Assisi.htm
 Matthew 10:7-10 (NRSV)
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!