October 9, 2016 Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi The Rev. Deacon Anne Abdy
“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14)
I have inherited some wonderful and expensive jewelry, but more often than not, I prefer to wear a cross. I imagine that many of you also have crosses that you like to wear? Hands up, if you’re wearing a cross now.
Well, I have a collection of crosses and each day I stand before my collection and I pick out a cross to wear because each cross means something to me. For instance, I have a cross which is a silver rectangle bar with three small gold crosses inserted into the bar. This represents the Trinity. Or my Cursillo Cross which has an etching of the Christ on one side and the words, “God is counting on you” on the other side. I like to wear it because it reminds me of my Christian responsibility.
Do you remember Tom Hank’s movie, The Da Vinci Code? Our first sighting of him is a scene where he is delivering a lecture on symbols. On a huge screen behind him is a picture of a devil’s pitchfork. When the camera pans out to expose the full image, the Greek God named Poseidon, the God of the Sea, is pictured. The point I am making this: Symbols provide meanings to the cultural context in which we live. The cross is the symbol of Christianity. It represents what we believe. It represents the essence of the Church. It represents who you and I are. I like to think that the Saints were burdened with carrying the cross too.
Today our parish is celebrating the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. He was born in 1182 and spent much of his early youth and adulthood was spent in fruitless attempts to win military glory.
At one point he was held captive in a neighboring city, and he is said to have “set himself apart from his companions, ceased complaining and began singing in French the songs he had learned from his mother.” In the midst of extreme desolation, disappointment, and embarrassment, Francis found hope. This cross which birthed death, destruction, and oppression through the ages, is the same symbol that gives Christians hope. Francis figured this out and he took to heart the real meaning of Christianity. “He was a man of evangelical principles called to a mission of radical renewal.”
History tells us that he had various encounters with beggars and lepers. Because of these encounters he decided to embrace a life devoted to Christ. In the book, Francis: A Call to Conversion, this experience is described in this fashion:
“Francis declared that he would soon be betrothed to a woman of great nobility. This women was not a girl of the city [of Assisi], not creature of flesh—blood. This woman was formed of mind and spirit. She reminds us of Wisdom in Scripture. Francis named her Lady Poverty. To Francis she brought the gifts of simplicity of life, clarity of purpose, and integrity of soul.”
As a result of his conversion, Francis renounced material things. His simply decided to serve the poor. By the end of the 20th Century, the Franciscan order that bears his name had 18,000 lay or ordained members world-wide.
Francis is most widely known for being given “the marks of the Lord’s wounds, the stigmata, in his own hands and feet and side.” He is probably most famous for writing the “Canticle of the Sun” which situates Frances as the saint of earthly creatures when he wrote, “Let creatures all give thanks to thee, And serve in great humility.”
Saint Francis is important because he called for the rich and famous of his time to meet the needs of the poor rather than squirrel away their wealth on stuff. He rebelled against his rich father by stripping naked and giving his clothes to a beggar in the town square. He met humanity at their level. He hugged leper, the outcast of humanity in his time. He called for change in liturgy and spiritual practices years before the Reformation in the 16th century.
Francis died in 1226 and was canonized as a saint two years later. He is the patron saint for ecologists—honoring his boundless love for animals and nature. I like to think that people buy his statues because he was a man of the people. He loved God’s creation. He was a rebel, and like Jesus, he preferred the company of the common man. I imagine that if he were alive today he would read the Gospel from The Message Bible. [The Message Bible is recent modern translation of the Bible using contemporary language.]
He would read:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Go away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
As Christians, when we walk with another on their journey, we bring that freedom and hope that is symbolized in the Cross with us. Are you ready to take up the cross and be the disciple that Christ demands of us as we live into our baptismal covenant?
The ministry of reconciliation and redemption, which are the corner stones to Saint Francis’ ministry, are still needed today. Francis is supposed to have said these quotes which echo our Christian duty today.
- “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
- “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
- “For it is in giving that we receive.”
As Christians, we are the hands and feet of Jesus. We wear the cross given to us at baptism when we are anointed with holy oil. Will you follow St. Francis’ example and take up the burden of the cross? Will you wear the cross of giving? Will you wear the cross of caring? Will you wear the cross of selfless kindness? Will you wear the cross of hope to a broken world? So I ask you, what cross are you wearing today?
 Duane W H. Arnold and C George Fry, Francis: A Call to Conversion (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Cantilever Books, 1988), 30.
 Ibid, 17.
 Ibid, 34.
 Dictionary of American History, “Franciscans,” encyclopedia.com, 2003, accessed October 5, 2016, http://www.encyclopedia.com/philosophy-and-religion/christianity/roman-catholic-orders-and-missions/franciscans.
 Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (New York: Church Pub. Inc., 2010), 622.
 Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message Bible.
 Arnold and Fry, 18.