Happy Feast of St Francis

Today is the Feast of St Francis. Now that I’m on the pastoral team at a church (more on that another time), I got to have a two-minute moment introducing the saint, lead everyone in the Peace Prayer falsely attributed to him, recommend to the musicians that we sing “All Creatures of Our God and King” (we did), and project this image by Count von Imhoff, the German painter resident in Saskatchewan a century ago:

St. Francis of Assisi by Count Berthold von Imhoff

That over which I have zero control, of course, is the Revised Common Lectionary, which had Psalm 19 for today. Verses 1-6 are notably Franciscan:

THE heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
One day telleth another: and one night certifieth another.
There is neither speech nor language: but their voices are heard among them.
Their sound is gone out into all lands: and their words into the ends of the world.
In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun: which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.
It goeth forth from the uttermost part of the heaven, and runneth about unto the end of it again: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

Coverdale trans.

However, let it be said that 7-end hit an equally Franciscan note, one less tuned to birdfeeders and warm, cozy “spirituality”:

The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, and giveth wisdom unto the simple.
The statutes of the Lord are right, and rejoice the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, and giveth light unto the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, and endureth for ever: the judgements of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey, and the honey-comb.
Moreover, by them is thy servant taught: and in keeping of them there is great reward.
Who can tell how oft he offendeth: O cleanse thou me from my secret faults.
Keep thy servant also from presumptuous sins, lest they get the dominion over me: so shall I be undefiled, and innocent from the great offence.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart: be alway acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord: my strength, and my redeemer.

Coverdale trans.

2020 has brought out the worst in many of us. It strikes me that the Franciscan word we most need is not the Canticle of the Sun but his preaching of repentance, calling people back to Jesus and the worship of the one, true, and living God.

What to do with the “Canticle of Brother Sun”

First, pop on over to this website and read the “Canticle of Brother Sun”.

The first Franciscan text we read last night was the “Canticle of Brother Sun”.  This is one of St. Francis’ most popular writings.  It is especially popular today since St. Francis is the patron saint of ecologists and people can get their pets blessed on his feast day.  According to GK Chesterton, in fact:

It is a supremely characteristic work and much of Saint Francis could be reconstructed from that work alone.

Like all acts of writing, the “Canticle of Brother Sun” is dangerous, risky.  In the hands of an unsympathetic reader, it could be interpreted as heresy, as a form of pantheism, panentheism, or pagan nature-worship.  In the hands of a heretic, it could be used as such.  On the other hand, in the hands of a sympathetic orthodox reader, it becomes the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King.”

St. Francis of Assisi was an orthodox Catholic believer.  His goal was not to start his own hippie church (contra Donovan & Brother Sun, Sister Moon).  His goal was to bring the true faith to the common people of Italy, to bring people to true faith and hearty repentance, to cause the rich to reconsider the value of wealth, to give strength the poor — and all of these things are not done through Brother Sun but through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  St. Francis was aware of this.  It permeates the majority of his life, the stories of his life, and his writings.

And if we look at the “Canticle of Brother Sun,” we see that it balances all the words about creation with praise of the Creator.  This is the balance that must be found when we discuss eco-theology or the greening of theology or a theology of the environment or creation care.  The centre of our worship must always, ever, and ceaselessly be our Lord God.

So it was for St. Francis.  I disagree with the Chesterton quotation above.  If we are to know St. Francis’ heart, we must look beyond the “Canticle of Brother Sun.”  Elsewhere we see the centrality of Christ in his life.  We must balance this canticle with the rest of the saint’s writings.  Thus, we shall take the “Canticle of Brother Sun” and look at it parallel to chapter 23 of the “Earlier Rule” (for those pressed for time, I have bolded the word therefore; read from that word on for a briefer experience):

All-powerful, most holy, most high and supreme God
Holy and just Father
Lord, King of heaven and earth
we thank You for Yourself
for through Your holy will
and through Your only Son
with the Holy Spirit
You have created all things spiritual and corporal
and, having made us in Your own image and likeness,
You placed us in paradise.
And through our own fault we have fallen.
And we thank You
for as through Your Son You created us
so also through Your holy love, with which You loved us,
You brought about His birth
as true God and true man
by the glorious, ever-virgin, most blessed, holy Mary
and You willed to redeem us captives
through His cross and blood and death.
And we thank You
for Your Son Himself will come again
in the glory of His majesty
to send the wicked ones
who have not done penance and who have not known You
into the eternal fire,
and to say to all those who have known You and have adored You
and have served You in penance:
“Come, you blessed of My Father,
receive the kingdom,
which has been prepared for you
from the beginning of the world.”
And because all of us wretches and sinners
are not worthy to pronounce Your name,
we humbly ask that our Lord Jesus Christ,
Your beloved Son, in whom You were well pleased,
together with the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete,
give You thanks as it pleases You and Him for everything,
[He] Who always satisfies You in everything
through Whom You have done such great things for us.
Alleluia!

[Here follows a list of saints begged to join in thanks.  Then a request for all people, laity and clergy, to serve the Lord.]

Let us all love the Lord God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength [cf. Mark 12:30], with fortitude and with total understanding, with all of our powers, and with every effort, every affection, every emotion, every desire, and every wish.  He has given and gives to each one of us our whole body, our whole soul, and our whole life.  He created and redeemed us, and will save us by His mercy alone.  He did and does every good thing for us who are miserable and wretched, rotten and foul-smelling, ungrateful and evil.

Therefore
let us desire nothing nothing else
let us wish for nothing else
let nothing else please us and cause delight
except our Creator and Redeemer and Saviour,
the one true God,
Who is the fullness of Good
all good, every good, the true and supreme good
Who alone is good
merciful and gentle
delectable and sweet
Who alone is holy
just and true
holy and right
Who alone is kind
innocent
pure
from Whom and through Whom and in Whom is
all pardon
all grace
all glory
of all the penitent and the just
of all the blessed who rejoice together in heaven.
Therefore let nothing hinder us
nothing separate us
or nothing come between us.
Let all of us
wherever we are
in every place
at every hour
at every time of day
everyday and continually
believe truly and humbly
and keep in our hearts and love, honour, adore, serve
praise and bless
glorify and exalt
magnify and give thanks to
the most high and supreme eternal God
Trinity and Unity
the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
the Creator of all
Saviour of all who believe in Him
and Hope in Him
and love Him
Who is
without beginning and and without end
unchangeable, invisible,
indescribable, ineffable,
incomprehensible, unfathomable,
blessed, worthy of praise,
glorious, exalted on high, sublime,
most high, gentle, lovable,
delectable and totally desirable above all else
forever.
Amen.

This is the heart of Franciscan spirituality.