Friday, October 3, 2008

Saint Francis of Assisi

Tomorrow, Oct. 4th is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. And who hasn't heard of St. Francis? Who hasn't at least seen one of these statues in a garden which depicts a serene looking man with the obligatory bird and fawn beside him. He's that odd monk that preached to the animals, right? And let's not forget the animal blessing that is conducted every year in remembrance of this man's love for all of God's creatures.

Several years ago, while vacationing in San Francisco, my husband and I wandered into a Catholic church in search of a quiet place to sit while other members of our family were enjoying a street festival we had stumbled upon while wandering through Chinatown. We had no idea that we had entered The National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi in the middle of the Blessing of the Animals. And what a sight to behold! There were over 50 animals gathered around the altar - and all of them were sitting together - as if it was something they did on a regular basis. There were dogs and cats and ferrets and birds. There were rabbits and guinea pigs and God only knows what else! Neither David nor I could believe the calmness of the scene of all the animals with their humans waiting to be blessed. A remarkable experience indeed!

I have a sign in my office that reads "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words." It has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi but scholars have not been able to find proof of that. Who really cares if he said it or not? It sounds quite Franciscan to me.

In Sam Portaro's "Brightest and Best - A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts" I found this quote which seemed to fit with all that we are facing today:

"Francis and those who follow in his way preach to us by living as though the gospel were a reality; they live as though the kingdom of God were present, the victory of Christ over this world as real as the closing Dow Jones average and the morning commute. They are an icon of vocation for every Christian, searching us and compelling us to see what we might be, and to live it."

I leave you with my favorite portrait of St. Francis by John August Swanson and one of this saint's most familiar prayers:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

P.S. We at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Port Townsend, will be celebrating the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi by gathering on the Labyrinth for a brief & beloved service for the blessing of every pet represented on next Sunday afternoon, October 5th at 4 p.m. All are welcome!

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