Thursday, 4 October 2012

Saint Francis of Assisi

A Homily for Holy Communion on Thursday, 4th of October, 2012, 7.30 p.m. for the Parish Church of SS. Mary & Nicholas Littlemore, Oxford Saint Francis of Assisi Readings: Psalm 8 & Luke 10:1-12 + May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen. Saint Francis is perhaps best known for two things, although, like many great people, he did many other things besides. The first is that he was the first person recorded as having experienced the “stigmata”, receiving in his own hands and feet, and side, the wounds experienced by Christ on the Cross. The second is his deep commitment to explaining and exploring the love of God through the created world. Saint Francis was not an easy person to know. He came from a rich family, but when challenged by his own father with Christ’s words “if your enemy demand you coat, give him the shirt off your back too”, he took him quite literally, and paraded about the village square, naked. What was there to be ashamed of, in what God had made, and his Son had commanded? It is hard to question the evidence that some people have indeed experienced the “stigmata”, but equally hard to question the evidence that most people have thought them, as they thought Saint Francis, mentally unbalanced. Francis was by no means normal. He was actually rather shocking. He lived his faith in Christ with a vivacity that puts the rest of us to shame. He rejoiced in all of creation, the sun and the moon and the stars, the creatures with whom we share this world, and even death who kindly lets us go when our time here is done. For such views, he would have been thought an astrologer, a necromancer, a hippy, an extremist, someone bent on “bringing down society as we know it”. And yet, amongst his followers he created a third order, which exists to this day, of people who could seek to follow his rule – approved by the church authorities of his time – in their own homes, and within their own families. This was a practical radical. Shocking, alarming, extreme, prepared to undergo all manner of hardships, and certainly to forgo the luxury to which he was born, but utterly faithful to God in Christ, to the Church, and to his brother and sister Christians for whom he sought to make things better, not worse. His is not an easy example to follow, if we choose to take it all at once. But let us start a bit at a time. Let us dare to travel the road we’d rather not, and risk welcome or rejection when we arrive; let us rejoice in God’s good creation, and share everything we dare to share, with those whose need is greater than our own; let us idle in the sun, or the rain, and know that our good God has sent them both to us in love. And also – and I am not a radical – keep your kit on, whilst you do it – Assisi is warmer than Littlemore. Amen. Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford October, 2004

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