St Francis of Assisi Course

St John’s Episcopal Church, Millville; Trinity Episcopal Church, Whitinsville

St Francis and Our Community Project 2014

St Francis is remarkable for his love of God, for his abandonment of worldly goods; for his loving and joyful nature.  He is known for his love of others especially the least, of all creatures, nature, and peace.  He has captured the imagination of the world for going on eight centuries now.  An outline of our series of sessions on St Francis follows.

 

Initially, these sessions will begin on Wednesday mornings at Trinity at 10 am from September 10, 2014.  Each session will be 20 minutes long.  There is a toll-free teleconference line number (866) 734-4959.  Then enter the participant PIN number — 139-708-40#

 

The thought is that evening sessions can begin in Lent (February) 2015.

 

We have prepared a worship event which is connected with this form of spirituality.  The time and date of the event is still to be determined.

 

  • First session: Introduction to St Francis; sharing our hopes for this journey together
  • Second to fourth sessions: Three passages that were foundational to the first Franciscan community (according to G K Chesterton Francis of Assisi p. 61) :
    • The rich young man and the ‘Eye of the Needle’ Mt 19:23f//Mk 10:24f//Lk 18:24f;
    • The mission of the disciples Lk 10:1f;
    • The follower of Christ must carry his or her own cross Mt 16:24
  • Fifth session: St Francis and The Canticle of the Sun–”Eco-Spirituality”
  • Prayer, St Francis and The Song of Songs–In a tender and loving relationship with the Divine
  • St Francis and how we become at one with God (At-one-ment): Four gospel passages
  • Christmas, the incarnation, and St Francis

Recommended reading (available on Amazon).  The first is particularly useful, since it is authored by a married lay person who continues to shape his family life around the principles of St Francis; and Talbot is also a well known musician.

 

Talbot, John Michael with Rabey, Steve. 1997.  The Lessons of St. Francis.  Plume/ Penguin: NY.

Edizioni Porziuncola.  2008.  We Were With St Francis Tr. Salvator Butler ofm.

Rohr, Richard. Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy: The Legacy of St Francis.

Chesterton, G. K.  (1924) 1957, 2001. St. Francis of Assisi  Doubleday/ Random: NY.

First Session: Introduction to the life of St Francis and our hopes for this journey together (Wednesday September 10)

 

St Francis was born and baptized with the first name Giovanni in 1182 in Assisi in Italy. His father was Pietro Bernardone, who headed a family of means connected with trade in fabrics.

After a local intercity Italian war in 1202, Francis suffered imprisonment and sickness.  During this time, he had a spiritual experience with God, and was inwardly changed in a deep and lasting way.  Ever deeper times of prayer, fasting, self emptying, and contemplation would continue throughout his life.

As a young man of 23 years of age,beginning from 1205 he was transfixed by the love of God; by loving respect for beggars and the sick (lepers), one person at a time; and by the needs of others.  At that time he left the Bernardone family trade and all worldly possessions.

From 1206 forward he devoted his time to caring for lepers, restoring three church buildings, and travelling to preach the gospel.  At great personal risk, in 1219 he travelled to see the Muslim Sultan of Babylon, Melek el-Khamil, near Damietta in Egypt during the time of the Crusades.  In 1223 he popularized the Christmas nativity and the Christmas crèche.

In 1224 (at 42 yrs of age) he experienced the stigmata, the marks of Christ’s wounds. His signature love of nature and creation is reflected in the renowned “Canticle of the Sun” which he wrote in 1225 (see the fifth session below).  Never ordained, he was devoted to nurturing all such things above in the life of the followers of Christ.  He died in the year 1226 at 44 years of age.

The Bible passages for the three following sessions are those passages with which Francis founded his community of three, as together they served the lepers in Assisi.  In 1979 Pope John Paul II recognized him as the patron saint of ‘those concerned with ecology’.

 

Question: Can you see connections between the story of St Francis, and your life, or our own time?  What are your hopes for this journey together with St Francis and each other?  If Francis lived here today, what would he be doing?  What would he inspire us to do?

 

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Second Session: The Rich Young Man and ‘The Eye of the Needle’  Mk 10:17-31// Mt 19:23f//Lk 18:24f

 

“Sell all you have: and come, follow me”  (Mk 10:21).

 

No wonder this passage struck Francis, because it is so much like his own story above.  In this Gospel passage, a wealthy, urbane person came to Jesus, wanting divine reassurance that he was acceptable to God because he had done his best.

Despite the many accomplishments of this person who was approaching him, Jesus (loving him) told him that he had to leave everything.  The wealthy individual was unable to accept this challenge.  In order to cling to his goods and accomplishments, he left Jesus.

Those noticing this event, including the disciples, were used to the idea that success was a sign of God’s blessing.  So they were completely amazed–and surely, this story makes our hearts uneasy too!

Despite the surprise of those disciples, not only did Jesus repeat this saying, but also he went on to say the following:  That it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.  That ‘camel through the eye of a needle’ metaphor describes something that it is impossible–or, as Jesus immediately said, something that is only possible through God’s action. The point of this passage is not that only an ascetic can enter the kingdom.  Rather, the point is that all that any of us can do on our own is never going to help us relate with God. To relate to God, we must fully trust in and rely upon God.  Isn’t that kind of obvious, when you think about it?

Peter’s defense was that they (the disciples) had left everything.  In response, Jesus said this:  When you follow me, you are always leaving the things of the world.  Every day, we must grow in laying aside self-sufficiency, and learn to live ever more in God’s possibilities.

St Francis pointed out that the more possessions we have, the more arms and security we need; and neighborliness declines.  The one who clutches to material things never seems to have enough. The one who is leaving the things of this world always has more than they need–but, with persecutions.  Fasting (in any way) can help us on this path.

 

For further reading: Talbot, chapter 2 “Simplicity”, pp. 17-35

 

Question: On your own, do you feel that you do or do not have sufficient?  We can describe the three main principles of St. Francis as the love of God, simple living, loving respect for creation, and individual compassion for those in need.  How can we further embrace one or more of these in our own lives?

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Third session: The Mission of the Twelve Disciples Lk 10:1-12

 

“Do not take a purse or bag or sandals…” (Lk 10:4).  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim the year of the favor.”  (Luke 4: 18-19).

 

As his group of minor brothers began, St Francis prayerfully determined the direction based on scripture. The mission he was given was of poverty, chastity and obedience.  He used chapter ten of Luke to determine how they would go out into the world. They were to minister to the poor while being of the poor.  Patricia Marks wrote the following (in Forward Day by Day):

“Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true” —- I love these lyrics from the contemporary hymn “Sanctuary.” But then I think about the words’ real meaning. Being a sanctuary is risky. After all, when Jesus said, “The scripture has been fulfilled in your sight,” his hearers were so amazed and angry they tried to hurl him off the cliff.

I may want to imagine myself as a beautiful, peaceful sanctuary, filled with the Spirit of the Lord, but being the one who brings good news to the poor takes a good deal of courage and hard work. It means dishing out soup from the back of a volunteer wagon and hammering boards on a Habitat for Humanity house. And what about releasing captives and bringing sight to the blind? Much harder than turning a key or paying for an eye doctor is being with those held captive by grief or helping guide someone along a new path of life.

The year of the Lord’s favor is now and here: we need only listen and act.

For further reading: Talbot, chapter 11 “Service”, pp. 187-206.

Questions:

  • In a typical year where we must make commitments to our personal and family needs is it asking too much to set aside time for others with needs we take for granted?
  • What areas of need have you ministered to in the past?
  • Where would your talents and gifts best be used considering some of the ministries you may have been aware of?
  • How would our church family be of value as a team and used periodically?

 

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Fourth session: Each follower of Christ must carry their own cross Mt 16:21-28

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any of you want to follow behind me, you must utterly abandon your own convenience and lift your own cross and continually follow me.’” (Mt 16:24)

 

In this gospel reading Peter said to Jesus, “Don’t go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.” Peter did not understand how their great national hope and majesty of the Son of Man could possibly face suffering with the capital punishment of a criminal. Can you imagine the President being convicted as a traitor and ending life by receiving a lethal injection? It would be shocking; so no wonder Peter was shocked!

As babies, we begin life completely insistent on what we need.  Later, we mature to become more giving of ourselves for the needs of our partner, children and others.  Imagine if someone said to a mother – “Don’t get up to feed the baby; let the baby cry until you are ready to get up.”  You can imagine the young mother responding just as Jesus did to Peter – “Get behind me tempter, you don’t understand the needs of the baby, and that I am consumed by my intention to give to the baby what the baby needs.”

Jesus is, in a sense, like a mother, has cross-shaped love, ready to bleed, ready to give all for the sake of the life and well being of God’s children.

As the mother disregards herself for the sake of her child, as Jesus became the suffering servant for us, so Francis of Assisi disregarded his wealth and inheritance for his Lord, and left his hometown naked!  In the same way Matthew disregarded his tax collecting income for his Lord, and left his tax table as it was.

Sometimes, love is a gentle thing, and sometimes, love is a tough thing.  To learn the meaning of love, of life, and of carrying a cross are all similar. Caring for others comes in different ways, sometimes with great personal sacrifice or confrontation, and sometimes, with tenderness.  St Francis, the servant of lepers, said, “One goes more quickly to heaven from a hut than from a palace.”  And in his visits to churches, “He brought along a broom to clean the churches.”  The greatest are those that care most deeply.  We honor people like Nelson Mandela because they do something of this same nature:  Carry your cross. Nurture life.

 

For further reading: Talbot, chapter 5 “Humility”, pp. 75-90.

 

Questions: Is there a time or place in your life that caring for God, or for others has made you bleed?  Recapitulating:  We can describe the three main principles of St. Francis as the love of God, simple living, loving respect for creation, and individual compassion for those in need.  How can we further embrace one or more of these in our own lives?

 

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Fifth Session: St Francis and The Canticle of the Sun–”Eco-Spirituality” Romans 8:19-23

 

22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

 

Read (below) St. Francis’ poem or song, The Canticle of the Sun.  The following few paragraphs of commentary are based on Richard Rohr’s Study, ‘Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy”,  Session Five: Eco-Spirituality.

St Francis brought to spirituality a respect, mutuality and subjectivity for animals, elements and planets.  He created a worldview orthodoxy (teaching regarding the world).  God has blessed us with this orthodoxy or teaching and an Order of Franciscans that continues to grow around it.

We may see nature and cosmology with curiosity, as peaceful and even restorative moments in our lives. That perspective would be recreational, in a way.

Yet we can go further, to a point that is more challenging.  We can see nature and ecology, the stars and the planets included in our own creation.  We can see all of these things in equal measure of God’s intent and loving care.  In this perspective, we are as responsible for the well being of the earth as much as for the well being of ourselves.

Individualism, according to Rohr, has set us on a ‘just us’ journey spiritually.  This allows us to retreat from any thought of ecological inclusion (all of us united with the whole creation).  It means we do not take into account that “God so loved the world.”

 

For further reading: Talbot, chapter 10:“Creation”, pp 167-186.

Question:

Think about God’s intent and love; and also on the above passage from Romans.  Where would you put ecology, nature & creation, and humans?  Pick one or two:

  •         We humans are God’s first and only love.
  •         God created nature, ecology and the heavens just for us to live.
  •         We’re God’s primary creation and focus the rest is secondary.
  •         God created both with equal intensity to love.
  •         We would be right to include both in our reverence and orthodoxy.

Let’s talk about our choice(s); and about a simple step to more deeply care for nature, earth, or the creation.

The Canticle of the Sun

By St. Francis of Assisi

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!

All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.

No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,

especially through my lord Brother Sun,

who brings the day; and You give light through him.

And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!

Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;

in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,

and clouds and storms, and all the weather,

through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;

she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,

through whom You brighten the night.

He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,

who feeds us and rules us,

and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;

through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,

for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,

from whose embrace no living person can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin!

Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.

The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,

and serve Him with great humility.

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