Posted on: Wednesday 16 October 2019
Posted in: Anglican Faith Connections
The Chaplain’s Column
Last week was the observance of St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscans; a religious order within both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches. St Francis (1181-1226) was the son of a wealthy merchant and spent his youth enjoying his father’s prosperity. This changed after he was made a prisoner of war during a border dispute between his native city of Assisi and Perugia.
His incarceration led him to reevaluate his life, and on a pilgrimage to Rome he was so moved by compassion for the beggars there that he exchanged clothes with one of them and spent a day begging. This experience was the beginning of a life of holy poverty in which he totally identified with Christ’s command to his disciples to leave all and follow him (Matthew 10:7-19).
He was disowned by his parents but soon gathered around him a group of like-minded followers. Over time, this group became known as the ‘friars minor’ and followed a simple Rule of Life devised by Francis himself. His influence spread and led St Clare, herself a wealthy citizen of Assisi, to found a religious order for women who became known as the ‘Poor Clares’. In 1221, Francis established a Third Order (Tertiaries) who remained within their daily occupations and lives, but lived out his concepts as closely as possible.
It was not only the dedication to holy poverty that distinguished the early Franciscans from other religious orders of the day, but also their decision to become itinerant preachers and live in small communities rather than large establishments. By 1223, the Franciscans had gained papal approval. Francis so identified with Christ that towards the end of his life, he began to show the marks of crucifixion (the stigmata) on his own body. Moreover, it was only two years after his death in 1226 that Francis was canonised. As the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says of him: “Francis’s generosity, his simple and unaffected faith, his love of nature and his deep humility have made him one of the most cherished saints in modern times.” It is probably his love of nature that is most remembered by people these days, but this love was not based on a love of nature for its own sake nor a sentimental attachment to animals. Rather, it was his understanding of the Christian faith that led him to embrace nature. A faith that is seen in this prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
Fr Patrick Duckworth