An Alternative “Toast tae the Lassies”

My more traditional option here.

Robert Burns, the Scots Bard, is well-known for his love of women, a love that got him into trouble at Ayr’s local kirk and produced at least one bastard child.  As a result, it is a tradition common to the dinners held in his honour at the commemoration of his birthday across the world to provide a toast to the “fairer” sex.

Yet might I take a moment to toast not just lassies in general, who are certainly a species of creature worth toasting, but to those lassies most worthy of a toast?  Might I turn our attention from the more carnal taste of Burns to the more spiritual taste of the saints?

Indeed, throughout the history of Christianity, strong women have been a force to be reckoned with.  They have been on the front lines of evangelisation, of work amongst the poor, of medicine and hospitals, of hospitality, of generosity, of pilgrimage, of mysticism.  Yet too often they are forgotten — indeed, even I have failed in over a year of “Weekly Saints” to make a female saint the topic for the week.  Nevertheless, the power of women in Christianity is something not to be forgotten, from the Blessed Virgin our “Champion Leader” to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Let us toast first, then, the Mother of Our Lord, St. Mary of Nazareth.  She stands out not only as the only person to carry God in her womb, but also as the first person in a series of biblical calls to avoid making excuses and say in response to God’s call, “Let it be unto me according to your will.”  Faith and obedience to God’s call are our lessons from the Supersaint Godbearer.  To Mary!

A toast is also in order to Perpetua, the second-century martyress who stood firm in her faith and faced execution at the hands of Rome boldly, even wrestling with demons while she awaited her death.  Endurance and fortitude in the face of extreme unpleasantness are our lessons from St. Perpetua.  To Perpetua!

Third, I propose a toast to Amma Syncletica the fourth-century Desert Mother of Egypt, if for no other reason than this quotation: “Just as the most bitter medicine drives out poisonous creatures so prayer joined to fasting drives evil thoughts away.”  For encouraging us to pray and to fast in the bitter struggle against our own evil desires, a toast to Syncletica!

Slàinte mhath to St. Hilda of Whitby (my post here), who founded an abbey and used discernment to seek out the talents the Lord hid away in people like Caedmon.  May we all have true insight into the world around us.  To Hilda!

A toast to St. Clare of Assisi (my post here).  This intrepid mystic followed the call of God against the pressures of family and hearth — a difficult task for anyone whose family is Christian (to reject pagans is one thing, but to turn your back on your Christian parents another).  Would that more Christians had the boldness to follow the call of God to difficult places and a life of prayer regardless of what others think of them.  To Clare!

I propose a toast to Lady Julian of Norwich (my page here), the mystic anchorite who has shown so many of us something of the depths of the riches of the love of God Almighty for us.  May we, too, seek God’s face in prayer and spread his message of love to the world around us.  To Julian!

A toast is definitely in order to Susannah Wesley, mother of John and Charles, who, in a household full of loud children, sought the Lord at all times — even if it was just under the kitchen table.  She also has the distinction of having raised two of the eighteenth centuries great men of faith.  To Susannah!

Given the limits of time, let us remember Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who demonstrated heroic virtue in seeking Christ in the lowest of the low and the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, who moved beyond the confines of her nunnery to bring Christ where he was needed.  May we all be willing to go out of our comfort zones as we live for Christ.  To Teresa!

These few women and the many more who have populated Christianity from its earliest days as (allegedly) a faith of women and slaves are worthy of a toast.  May we live up to their examples of obedience to God, of faithfulness, of perseverance in prayer, of discernment, of willingness to go beyond the usual, of visions of God’s love, of the pursuit of God in everyday life, of heroic virtue seeking Christ in all places!

To the lassies of Christ!  Lang may their lum reek!


St. Clare’s Laudable Exchange

This past Tuesday we discussed Simplicity in our small group.  St. Clare of Assisi, friend of St. Francis of Assisi and founder of the Poor Clares, had this to say on the topic to Blessed Agnes of Prague:

What a great laudable exchange:
to leave the things of time for those of eternity,
to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth,
to receive the hundred-fold in place of one,
and to possess a blessed and eternal life.

I first encountered the Laudable Exchange via that modern Franciscan musician and spiritual father, John Michael Talbot on his album Meditations from Solitude.  Being a big John Michael Talbot fan, I was excited to read the words in the original context, actually aware of St. Clare’s authorship.

This Laudable Exchange is the essence of Simplicity, inward and outward.

The things of time: careers, business, worries, fears, hatreds, loathings, lusts, passions.

The things of eternity: Christ, the Heavens, peace, calm, bliss, justice, equanimity.

The things of time: books, CDs, computers, blogs, extra cloaks, fancy foods.

The things of eternity: abundant life, service, glory, the Spirit, the music of the heavens.

Let us all make the Laudable Exchange ourselves.

Tomorrow Night: St. Francis of Assisi

Tomorrow at the small group our discussion shall focus upon St. Francis of Assisi.

The Texts:

The Canticle of Brother Sun

The Later Rule of 1223

Possibly some selections from The Little Flowers, one about Francis consulting Sister Clare and Brother Sylvester about whether to devote his life to prayer or to preaching, another about Francis and Ruffino preaching naked.

Our biblical text will be Mark 10:17-31.

My emphasis will be upon St. Francis’ ministry to human beings, especially upon his preaching of repentance.  He was called by Christ to build his Church, and this is the core of Francis’ work in the world.  The heart of all he did was a reckless love of God and radical commitment to the Gospel.

Saint of the Week: St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi by Count Berthold von Imhoff
St. Francis of Assisi by Count Berthold von Imhoff

This week has been a long time coming.  St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is my favourite saint.  If I were to become Roman Catholic, I would choose him as my patron.  I have already blogged about him at the Random Ramblings a few times, the most notable being Chasing Francis and St. Francis and Why You Like Him.

His feast day was this past Sunday, so it is only appropriate that we celebrate him as our saint this week.

St. Francis was born in 1182 while his father was off on a business trip to France; thus, upon his father’s return, the new child was (re-)named Francesco.  The son of a cloth merchant in Assisi, Italy, he began life seeking the usual pursuits of the wealthy mediaeval middle class.  He spent time as a troubadour — love-poets who sang songs about illicit affairs in French.  He helped out with the family business.  He spent time as a cavalryman (I would say “knight,” but the term would denote landed nobility which he was not).

Wounded in battle with a neighbouring Italian town, Francis’ military career was cut short.  During his convalescence, not unlike other mediaeval mystics, he had an encounter with Christ.  The Lord converted him through this vision.  Shortly thereafter, he realised how drastic the gulf between his comfortable middle-class lifestyle and that of Assisi’s poor.  Therefore, he gave away cloth to the poor for free.

His father was unimpressed.  So, in a display of what would be typical Francis behaviour, before the bishop of the city, Francis stripped himself naked and gave his clothing to his father.  He said that he was now only God’s son and had no obligations to his earthly father.  He dedicated himself to his father.

His mystical career continued as Francis spent his days praying in the various chapels around Assisi.  One day whilst at prayer in the ruins of San Damiano, he heard the voice of the Lord telling him rebuild the church.  Thus, he started the task of rebuilding San Damiano, gathering stones from neighbours in Assisi as well as a few followers in the process.

But the Church Christ was calling him to rebuild was not San Damiano, as became clear.  Every once in a while, the Body of Christ gets a little bit cold.  The Church becomes stiff, becomes a bureaucracy, an institution concerned more with its survival than with the salvation of souls.  Francis and his little brothers (fraticelli) were to become God’s solution for the High Middle Ages.

They dedicated themselves to Lady Poverty and took nothing for the road.  They preached the gospel of repentance to the people of Italy.  By the time there were eleven of them in 1209, Francis took them to Rome to gain the Pope’s permission to found an order.  They were given informal permission at this time, the official founding of the Order of Friars Minor coming later.

St. Francis danced when he met Pope Innocent III.

St. Francis more than the founder of a monastic order (technically a mendicant order of friars).  He was a revival preacher and evangelist.  He was an “environmentalist.”  He was a mystic.  He was a poet.  He was an ascetic.  He is the first recorded recipient of the stigmata.

Some stories about St. Francis of Assisi:

One night, Brother Francis was overcome by the sheer beauty of Sister Moon.  Yet the people of Assisi were blind to this beauty.  He was determined to grab their attention by any means possible, so he climbed the steeple of the church and began to bang on the bell crying aloud, “Behold Sister Moon!  Behold Sister Moon!”  Needless to say, his neighbours were unimpressed.

Brother Francis and Sister Clare met one night to discuss spiritual matters in a chapel.  As they talked, one of the brothers looked at the chapel and feared that they were in grave danger — the windows were filled with the light from flames.  He ran in to save them, and he found them seated, enraptured in the conversation, and the chapel filled with light, blessed angels, and saints.

Another time, a brother went to find Francis out in the woods to bring him a message.  He found Francis in conversation with the Blessed Virgin Mary herself.

One of my favourites is a tale about St. Francis and his need for prayer.  One day, he and the fraticelli were crossing the Italian countryside, and Francis was overcome with a desire to pray.  They went off the road to a place where a friend lived.  Francis went to the woods (or was it an island?  I forget) and spent the next three days in prayer.  Imagine having a life with the freedom to drop your plans so you could spend the next three days devoted to prayer!

If you’re interested in more about St. Frank, check out:

Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron

The Lessons of St. Francis by John Michael Talbot

St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton

A selection of his works is available in the HaperCollins Spiritual Classics series, Francis & Clare of Assisi.

The painting by Imhoff is scanned from a small copy I have.  The original is in the Imhoff Art Collection, Lloydminster, Saskatchewan.

Saint of the Week?

Over at Matthew’s Random Ramblings, I had a tendency to post a poem each week (they can be seen here), something I took up again yesterday.  I decided that over here at the pocket scroll, we could have a saint each week.

Part of the thrust of classic Christianity as described in the pages on the sidebar is to draw us back into the Great Tradition that has carried forth the Word of Life through the ages and to us.  I want us to draw back to those who have gone before and tap into their devotional practices, their ways of reading Scripture, their teachings, their poems, their examples of life.  Classic Christianity is more than just a bunch of books; it is men and women, flesh and blood, body and spirit.  Lives have been lived in the service of Christ, deaths have been died in the same.  By turning to this Great Cloud of Witnesses, to this Communion of Saints, we are tying ourselves into something much bigger than the concerns of today and this year.

Questions inevitably arise when a Prot does something of this sort, most notably: who counts as a saint? (Usually said meaning, “I’m a saint too, aren’t I?”)  A saint is, literally/etymologically, a “holy one.”  I take all Christians no longer with us as fair game as saints.  Since I’m Anglican, any who appear outside of the Early or Mediaeval/Byzantine Church are probably going to be from that tradition, but I’m also unafraid of post-Reformation Catholic or Orthodox saints.  I may post about St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. John of the Cross someday, their lives here on this blog alongside Richard Hooker and Thomas Cranmer.

My hope is that we will be drawn nearer to God by their examples, that we will be inspired by the works He has wrought in those who have gone before us, that our faith in His ability to pierce the veil between Earth and Heaven will be bolstered.

I hope also to herein explore ways of honouring the saints suitable to a Protestant Anglican who believes that it was with good reason the Reformers gave us this Article of Religion:

XXII. Of Purgatory.
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

Nonetheless, if you are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox and seek the intercession of the saints and venerate their icons and holy days, I hope that these musings here will be of some help and possibly draw us to seek out new and creative ways to engage with those who precede us.

I have written about one saint here already, St. Columba.

At Matthew’s Random Ramblings, I have already written about these saints:

The Blessed Virgin Mary

St. Clare of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi here and here

St. Thomas Becket

St. Nicholas of Myra

St. Hilda

Ramon Llull here and here