The Feast of St. Francis
Today, we honor the mystic, Francesco di Bernardone. Francesco was one of the wealthiest young men in Assisi, with a large family and many powerful friends. But Francesco, who we now call St. Francis, was called by our Lord to draw closer to him, so he left the comforts of his home to claim community with creation. Francis left the things of this world and he took on poverty, trusting, literally, that God would provide for all that he needed. Francis made the dome of the sky his cathedral ceiling and his congregation the animals of the land and the birds of the air. His food was whatever he found and his clothing rags cast off by others. In the process, Francis learned to lived fully in each blessed moment, and saw each moment for its blessed fullness. trusting that God really would provide for all his needs.
And God took care of the rest.
Now there are many legends about dear Francis. One such legend entails Francis and his companions making a trip through the Spoleto Valley near the town of Bevagna. Walking along, suddenly, Francis spots a flock of birds of all varieties. Swept up in the moment, Francis left his friends in the road and walked among the birds, who were not afraid of him.
Filled with awe, he is quoted as saying to them: “My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him: He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive God’s guidance and protection.” With these words the birds spread their wings, stretch their necks and gazed at Francis, rejoicing and praising God in their own way, according to their nature. Francis gave them his blessing, making the sign of the cross over them. At that they flew off and Francis, rejoicing and giving thanks to God, went on his way.
Surely Francis was thinking of the reading from Matthew when he spoke to the birds…”do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-27).
God’s joy is all around us.
The energy of dogs, the nervousness of cats, the laughter of children, the pride of parents…it is all around us. The breezes of the air, the stir of the trees, the incredible beauty of this Fall day…we are surrounded by life, life that is so complex and joyful that we could easily spend a day in its contemplation.
Countless men and women like Francis have dedicated their lives to the contemplation of creation. They listen and watch the earth and all of its wonders unfolding. In the writings of mystics like Julian of Norwich, Evelyn Underhill and Francis of Assisi we find that through the living elements of nature they came to know God more deeply. Their joys, their hopes, their wisdom were shaped by the life of the earth around them. No different than we, the world surrounding these mystics was pregnant with the presence of God. They simply stopped to notice.
After a long, hard day of work, our animals are often the most excited to see us home. Rain or shine they rejoice in our presence. They are, to us, daily reminders of God’s absolute joy incarnate. And as Genesis tells us, we have the special task of caring for these, vessels of God’s joy. We feed them, we train them, we worry over them when sick and we cry deep tears when their lives come to an end. We are the designated caregivers of God’s joy. What a gift! What a responsibility!
Many depend on God’s creatures for their livelihoods as cattleman or horse people do, or are nourished by the fish of the sea or the fowl of the air, or even if we weaned our children on the nutritious milk of cows we have been offered glimpses of God’s joy.
If we first understood death by the passing of a pet or were awe struck by the profound beauty of a bald eagle over the bay. If our very first friend who taught us to laugh and to play also had floppy ears and a wagging tail we have been offered glimpses of God’s joy.
Today is the feast day of St. Francis. And while few of us are called to mimic St. Francis’s extraordinary life of poverty, we can certainly learn from it. We can choose to wake each morning as if it is our first morning, ever, opening our eyes, anew, to the precious moments:
to see the new way the light is caste from the sky, the sounds of the birds as they call to one and other, and the beauty of the world we have been given to share with them.
We learn that our wealth is measured in joy, not in material possessions.
We learn that God is all around us, we need only open our eyes to see him.
We learn that creation is not here for our use alone, but for our infinite enjoyment and care.
This morning is a really special day as we are blessing the animals which we love. And our blessing, thanks to Francis, means 2 things. Our blessings are first a thanksgiving for the lives of the animals God gave us to show us his joy.
And our blessings of these animals are also a blessing of God. In blessing God’s animals we are saying, “God we bless you. We bless your joy in every animal of land and air and sea. We bless you in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the earth that sustains your creation, and, God, we bless our knowing you through them.”
God’s joy is all around us.
Therefore let us, truly, bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.