Friday, October 3, 2008

A Franciscan Novena: Day Nine, The Transitus of our Seraphic Father Francis

From: The Major Life of St. Francis by Brother Bonaventure

“When the hour of his passing was approaching, he had all the brothers staying in the place called to him and, comforting them about his death with words of consolation, he exhorted them to divine love with fatherly affection. He spoke at length about preserving poverty and patience and the faith of the holy Roman Church, placing the holy Gospel ahead of other observances.

"As all the brothers sat around him, he stretched his hand over them, crossing his arms in the form of a cross, for he always loved this sign. And he blessed all the brothers, both present and absent, in the name and power of the Crucified. Then he added: 'Goodbye, all my sons, in the fear of the Lord! Remain in Him always! Because a trial and tribulation is coming in the future, happy are thye who will persevere in those things they have begun. I am hurrying to God, to whose grace I entrust all of you.'

"When he finished this gentle admonition, the man most beloved of God ordered the Book of the Gospels brought to him and asked that the Gospel according to John be read to him from the place that begins: ‘Before the feast of Passover.’ He, as best he could, broke out in this psalm: ‘With my voice I cried to the Lord; With my voice I beseeched the Lord;’ and he finished it to the end. ‘The just,’ he said, ‘will await me until you have rewarded me.’” (Chap. XIV)

On the evening of October 3, 1226, Francis of Assisi died at the age of 44. After spending three days in the humble hut that his brothers had built as an infirmary, Francis had himself placed naked on the bare earth, and he died just as the friars were singing the verse of his "Canticle of the Creatures":

"Be praised, my Lord, for our sister Bodily Death, whom no living man can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are those whom she will find doing your holy will, for to them the second death will do no harm".

Each year, members of the Franciscan family around the world gather to remember the passing of Saint Francis: his transitus, into eternal life. This simple service of songs, readings, and prayers is a very poignant experience for all Franciscans. It is a time for all of us to remember our roots, to reflect upon our call, and to give thanks for the great gift of this extraordinary little poor man of Assisi (“Il Poverello”) , whose dream and struggle nearly 800 years ago to become a “living gospel” continue to inform and inspire people everywhere.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Franciscan Novena: Day Eight

Saint Francis’ Salutation to the Blessed Virgin

Hail, Lady and Queen,
holy Mary, Mother of God,
Virgin who became the Church,
chosen by the Father in heaven,
consecrated by his beloved Son
and his Spirit, the Comforter:
in you was and remains,
the whole fullness of grace
and everything that is good.
Hail, his palace,
hail, his tabernacle,
hail, his dwelling,
hail, his robe,
hail, his handmaid,
hail, his mother!

O holy Mother,
sweet and fair to see,
for us beseech the King,
your dearest Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
to death for us delivered:
that in his pitying clemency,
and by virtue of his most holy incarnation
and bitter death,
he may pardon our sins.

Holy Virgin Mary,
among all the women of the world,
there is none like you.
You are the daughter and handmaid of the most high King,
Father of heaven.
You are the mother of our most holy Lord Jesus Christ.
You are the bride of the Holy Spirit.
Pray for us, with St. Michael the archangel,
and all the powers of heaven
and all the saints,
to your most holy and beloved Son,
our Lord and Master, Amen.

Franciscan spirituality is essentially incarnational—it focuses on the embodiment, or ‘enfleshment’ of God in our world in and through Jesus Christ. In his wonderful prayer to Mary, St. Francis calls her ‘the virgin made Church’. In doing so, he both reflects upon and enunciates the extraordinary mystery of her role in the unfolding and ongoing mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus in our lives and in our world.

This incarnational spirit is expressed most poignantly in a homily preached at Lourdes on September 24 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, at the inviation of Cardinal Walter Kasper. The liturgy was part of the 150th anniversary celebration of the apparition of Mary to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, France. The homily is printed here in its entirety. Source:

'The babe in my womb leaped for joy.' (Luke 1.44)

Mary comes to visit Elizabeth, carrying Jesus in her womb. The Son of God is still invisible – not yet born, not even known about by Elizabeth; yet Elizabeth recognises Mary as bearing within her the hope and desire of all nations, and life stirs in the deep places of her own body. The one who will prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist, moves as if to greet the hope that is coming, even though it cannot yet be seen.

Mary appears to us here as the first missionary, 'the first messenger of the gospel' as Bishop Perrier of Lourdes has called her: the first human being to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to another; and she does it simply by carrying Christ within her. She reminds us that mission begins not in delivering a message in words but in the journey towards another person with Jesus in your heart. She testifies to the primary importance of simply carrying Jesus, even before there are words or deeds to show him and explain him. This story of Mary's visit to Elizabeth is in many ways a very strange one; it's not about the communication of rational information from one speaker to another, but a primitive current of spiritual electricity running from the unborn Christ to the unborn Baptist. But mission it undoubtedly is, because it evokes recognition and joy. Something happens that prepares the way for all the words that will be spoken and the deeds that will be done. The believer comes with Christ dwelling in them by faith, and God makes that current come alive, and a response begins, not yet in words or commitments, but simply in recognising that here is life.

When Mary came to Bernardette, she came at first as an anonymous figure, a beautiful lady, a mysterious 'thing', not yet identified as the Lord's spotless Mother. And Bernardette – uneducated, uninstructed in doctrine – leapt with joy, recognising that here was life, here was healing. Remember those accounts of her which speak of her graceful, gliding movements at the Lady's bidding; as if she, like John in Elizabeth's womb, begins to dance to the music of the Incarnate Word who is carried by his Mother. Only bit by bit does Bernardette find the words to let the world know; only bit by bit, we might say, does she discover how to listen to the Lady and echo what she has to tell us.

So there is good news for all of us who seek to follow Jesus' summons to mission in his Name; and good news too for all who find their efforts slow and apparently futile, and for all who still can't find their way to the 'right' words and the open commitment. Our first and overarching task is to carry Jesus, gratefully and faithfully, with us in all our doings: like St Teresa of Avila, we might do this quite prosaically by having with us always a little picture or a cross in our pockets, so that we constantly 'touch base' with the Lord. We can do it by following the guidance of the Orthodox spiritual tradition and repeating silently the Jesus Prayer, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner'. And if we are faithful in thus carrying Christ with us, something will happen, some current will stir and those we are with will feel, perhaps well below the conscious surface, a movement of life and joy which they may not understand at all. And we may never see it or know about it; people may not even connect it with us, yet it will be there – because Jesus speaks always to what is buried in the heart of men and women, the destiny they were made for. Whether they know it or not, there is that within them which is turned towards him. Keep on carrying Jesus and don't despair: mission will happen, in spite of all, because God in Christ has begun his journey into the heart.

And when we encounter those who say they would 'like to believe' but can't, who wonder how they will ever find their way to a commitment that seems both frightening and hard to understand, we may have something to say to them too: 'Don't give up; try and hold on to the moments of deep and mysterious joy; wait patiently for something to come to birth in you.' It certainly isn't for us as Christians to bully and cajole, and to try and force people into commitments they are not ready to make – but we can and should seek to be there, carrying Jesus, and letting his joy come through, waiting for the leap of recognition in someone's heart.

Of course, as often as not, we ourselves are the one who need to hear the good news; we need people around us who carry Jesus, because we who call ourselves believers all have our moments of confusion and loss of direction. Others fail us or hurt us; the Church itself may seem confused or weak or even unloving, and we don't feel we are being nourished as we need, and directed as we should be. Yet this story of Mary and Elizabeth tells us that the Incarnate Word of God is always already on the way to us, hidden in voices and faces and bodies familiar and unfamiliar. Silently, Jesus is constantly at work, and he is seeking out what is deepest in us, to touch the heart of our joy and hope.

Perhaps when we feel lost and disillusioned, he is gently drawing us away from a joy or a hope that is only human, limited to what we can cope with or what we think on the surface of our minds that we want. Perhaps it's part of a journey towards his truth, not just ours. We too need to look and listen for the moments of recognition and the leap of joy deep within. It may be when we encounter a person in whom we sense that the words we rather half-heartedly use about God are a living and actual reality. (That's why the lives of the saints, ancient and modern, matter so much.) It may be when a moment of stillness or wonder suddenly overtakes us in the middle of a familiar liturgy that we think we know backwards, and we have for a second the feeling that this is the clue to everything – if only we could put it into words. It may be when we come to a holy place, soaked in the hopes and prayers of millions, and suddenly see that, whatever we as individuals may be thinking or feeling, some great reality is moving all around and beneath and within us, whether we grasp it or not. These are our 'Elizabeth' moments – when life stirs inside, heralding some future with Christ that we can't yet get our minds around.

It's very tempting to think of mission as something to be done in the same way we do – or try to do – so much else, with everything depending on planning and assessments of how we're doing, and whether the results are coming out right. For that matter, it's tempting to think of the Church's whole life in these sorts of terms. Of course we need to use our intelligence, we need to be able to tell the difference between good and bad outcomes, we need to marshal all the skill and enthusiasm we can when we respond to God's call to share his work of transforming the world through Jesus and his Spirit. But Mary's mission tells us that there is always a deeper dimension, grounded in the Christ who is at work unknown and silent, reaching out to the deeply buried heart of each person and making the connection; living faithfully at the heart of the Church itself, in the middle of its disasters and betrayals and confusions, still giving himself without reserve. All that we call 'our' mission depends on this; and if we are wise, we know that we are always going to be surprised by the echoes and connections that come to life where we are not expecting it.

True mission is ready to be surprised by God – 'surprised by joy', in the lovely phrase of C. S. Lewis. Elizabeth knew the whole history of Israel and how it was preparing the way for God to come and visit his people – but she was still surprised into newness of life and understanding when the child leapt in her womb. Bernardette's neighbours and teachers and parish clergy knew all they thought they needed to know about the Mother of God – and they needed to be surprised by this inarticulate, powerless, marginal teenager who had leapt up in the joy of recognition to meet Mary as her mother, her sister, bearer of her Lord and Redeemer. Our prayer here must be that, renewed and surprised in this holy place, we may be given the overshadowing strength of the Spirit to carry Jesus wherever we go, in the hope that joy will leap from heart to heart in all our human encounters; and that we may also be given courage to look and listen for that joy in our own depths when the clarity of the good news seems far away and the sky is cloudy.

But here today, with Elizabeth and Bernardette, we say, in thankful amazement, 'Why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?' And we recognise that our heart's desire is met and the very depth of our being stirred into new life.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Franciscan Novena: Day Seven

A Litany of Praise
by Phillip Garcia, ofm

We praise you for rising sun and waning moon, for gently changing shades of coral and blue and gray--

We praise you for distant sound of ocean waves greeting dawn for the billionth time--

We praise you for glistening black-feathered crow, perched, surveying canyons-

We praise you for eucalyptus and pine and palm and for whispering branch symphonies played by wind--

We praise you for sound of frogs and owls and hawks filing air with morning songs--

We praise you for scurrying squirrel in search of food and for even quicker lizard basking slightly in sunlight warmth--

We praise you for butterflies and hummingbirds and bees on daily visitation of lilies and roses and geraniums--

We praise you for purring cat and friendly dog, ambassadors of original grace and love--

We praise you for sustaining all of creation in rightful posture and in holy relation--

We praise and thank you for creation's wisdom--

We praise and thank you for the life-lessons taught to us by all living beings--

We praise and thank you today and now and in all our days.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Franciscan Novena: Day Six

The Canticle of Creation by St. Francis of Assisi

Most high, all powerful, good Lord, to You be praise, glory and honor and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and there is no man worthy to name You.

Praise be to You, my Lord, with all Your creatures.
Chief of all is Sir Brother Sun, who is our day; through whom You give light. Beautiful is he, radiant, with great splendor. He is a true revealer of You, Most High.
Praise be to You, my Lord, for Sister Moon and for the stars. In heaven You have formed them, bright, precious and fair.

Praise be to You, my Lord, for Brother Wind, and for the air, and for the cloud, for clear sky and for all weathers, by which You give nourishment to all Your creatures.

Praise be to You, my Lord, for Sister Water. She is most useful and humble, precious and pure.

Praise be to You, my Lord, for Brother Fire, by whom You light up the night. Fair is he and merry, mighty and strong.
Praise be to You, my Lord, for our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and keeps us. She brings forth divers fruits, the many-hued flowers and grass.

You, my Lord, for those who grant pardon for love of You, and bear weakness and buffetings. Blessed are they who live in peace, for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

Praise be to You, my Lord, for our Sister, Bodily Death, From whom no living man can flee. Woe to them who die in mortal sin! But blessed they who shall find themselves in Your most holy will; to them the second death shall do no ill.//

Photos by: Friar Chuck Talley, ofm. Artwork (detail) Nevin Ford, ofm

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Franciscan Novena: Day Five

From the Fioretti ("The Little Flowers of St. Francis")
How St. Francis Tamed the Very Fierce Wolf of Gubbio
The statue featured above and in detail is from the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows/ The Grotto, in Portland, Oregon.

At a time when St. Francis was staying in the town of Gubbio, something wonderful and worthy of lasting fame happened.
For there appeared in the territory of that city a fearfully large and fierce wolf which was so rabid with hunger that it devoured not only animals but even human beings. All the people in the town considered it such a great scourge and terror -- because it often came near the town -- that they took weapons with them when they went into the country, as if they were going to war. But even with their weapons, they were not able to escape the sharp teeth and raging hunger of the wolf when they were so unfortunate as to meet it. Consequently, everyone in the town was so terrified that hardly anyone dared go outside the city gate.
But God wished to bring the holiness of St. Francis to the attention of those people.
For while the Saint was there at that time, he had pity on the people and decided to go out and meet the wolf. But on hearing this the citizens said to him: "Look out, Brother Francis. Don't go outside the gate, because the wolf which has already devoured many people will certainly attack you and kill you!"
But St. Francis placed his hope in the Lord Jesus Christ who is master of all creatures. Protected not by a shield or a helmet, but arming himself with the Sign of the Cross, he bravely went out of the town with his companion, putting all his faith in the Lord who makes those who believe in Him walk without any injury on an asp and a basilisk and trample not merely on a wolf but even on a lion and a dragon. So with his very great faith St. Francis bravely went out to meet the wolf.
Some peasants accompanied him a little way, but soon they said to him: "We don't want to go any farther because that wolf is very fierce and we might get hurt."

When he heard them say this, St. Francis answered: "Just stay here. But I am going on to where the wolf lives."
Then, in the sight of many people who bad come out and climbed onto places to see this wonderful event, the fierce wolf came running with its mouth open toward St. Francis and his companion.
The Saint made the Sign of the Cross toward it. And the power of God, proceeding is much from himself as from his companion, checked the wolf and made it slow down and close its cruel mouth.
Then, calling to it, St. Francis said: "Come to me, Brother Wolf. In the name of Christ, I order you not to hurt me or anyone."
It is marvelous to relate that as soon as he had made the Sign of the Cross, the wolf closed its terrible jaws and stopped running, and as soon as he gave it that order, it lowered its head and lay down at the Saint's feet, as though it had become a lamb.
And St. Francis said to it as it lay in front of him: "Brother Wolf, you have done great harm in this region, and you have committed horrible crimes by destroying God's creatures without any mercy. You have been destroying not only irrational animals, but you even have the more detestable brazenness to kill and devour human beings made in the image of God. You therefore deserve to be put to death just like the worst robber and murderer. Consequently everyone is right in crying out against you and complaining, and this whole town is your enemy. But, Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and them, so that they will not be harmed by you any more, and after they have forgiven you all your past crimes, neither men nor dogs will pursue you any more."
The wolf showed by moving its body and tail and ears and by nodding its head that it willingly accepted what the Saint had said and would observe it.

So St. Francis spoke again: "Brother Wolf, since you are willing to make and keep this peace pact, I promise you that I will have the people of this town give you food every day as long as you live, so that you will never again suffer from hunger, for I know that whatever evil you have been doing was done because of the urge of hunger. But, my Brother Wolf, since I am obtaining such a favor for you, I want you to promise me that you will never hurt any animal or man. Will you promise me that?"
The wolf gave a clear sign, by nodding its bead, that it promised to do what the Saint asked.
And St. Francis said: "Brother Wolf, I want you to give me a pledge so that I can confidently believe what you promise."
And as St. Francis held out his hand to receive the pledge, the wolf also raised its front paw and meekly and gently put it in St. Francis' hand as a sign that it was giving its pledge.
Then St. Francis said: "Brother Wolf, I order you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to come with me now, without fear, into the town to make this peace pact in the name of the Lord."

And the wolf immediately began to walk along beside St. Francis, just like a very gentle lamb. When the people saw this, they were greatly amazed, and the news spread quickly throughout the whole town, so that all of them, men as well as women, great and small, assembled on the market place, because St. Francis was there with the wolf.
So when a very large crowd had gathered, St. Francis gave them a wonderful sermon, saying among other things that such calamities were permitted by God because of their sins, and how the consuming fire of hell by which the damned have to be devoured for all eternity is much more dangerous than the raging of a wolf which can kill nothing but the body, and how much more they should fear to be plunged into hell, since one little animal could keep so great a crowd in such a state of terror and trembling.
"So, dear people," he said, "come back to the Lord, and do fitting penance, and God will free you from the wolf in this world and from the devouring fire of hell in the next world."
And having said that, he added: "Listen, dear people. Brother Wolf, who is standing here before you, has promised me and has given me a pledge that he will make peace with you and will never hurt you if you promise also to feed him every day. And I pledge myself as bondsman for Brother Wolf that he will faithfully keep this peace pact."
Then all the people who were assembled there promised in a loud voice to feed the wolf regularly.
And St. Francis said to the wolf before them all: "And you, Brother Wolf, do you promise to keep this pact, that is, not to hurt any animal or human being?"
The wolf knelt down and bowed its head, and by twisting its body and wagging its tail and ears it clearly showed to everyone that it would keep the pact as it had promised.
And St. Francis said: "Brother Wolf, just as you gave me a pledge of this when we were outside the city gate, I want you to give me a pledge here before all these people that you will keep the pact and will never betray me for having pledged myself as your bondsman."
Then in the presence of all the people the wolf raised its right paw and put it in St. Francis' hand as a pledge.
And the crowd was so filled with amazement and joy, out of devotion for the Saint as well as over the novelty of the miracle and over the peace pact between the wolf and the people, that they all shouted to the sky, praising and blessing the Lord Jesus Christ who had sent St. Francis to them, by whose merits they had been freed from such a fierce wolf and saved from such a terrible scourge and had recovered peace and quiet.

From that day, the wolf and the people kept the pact which St. Francis made. The wolf lived two years more, and it went from door to door for food. It hurt no one, and no one hurt it. The people fed it courteously. And it is a striking fact that not a single dog ever barked at it.
Then the wolf grew old and died. And the people were sorry, because whenever it went through the town, its peaceful kindness and patience reminded them of the virtues and the holiness of St. Francis.
Praised be Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The story of the wolf of Gubbio-- probably the best-known of all the legends about St. Francis-- is a demonstration of our call to be people of reconciliation wherever we are. The reconciling mission of the Franciscan order is in evidence today through the work, both locally and internationally, of our committees for Justice, Peace, & Integrity of Creation (JPIC). As individuals, we are also called to be signs of God's reconciling Love. With whom do I need to be reconciled in my life today-- whether it be someone from my past or someone with whom I interact / avoid on a daily basis?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Franciscan Novena: Day Four

As a young man, seeking to know and to do God’s will for him in his life, Francis of Assisi would often go to the abandoned church of San Damiano (Saint Damian) outside the city walls. One day the figure of Jesus on the Cross spoke directly to him: “Francis, rebuild my Church, which as you can see, is in ruins.” Initially, Francis took the injunction of Christ literally: he began to beg and “borrow” stones to rebuild San Damiano and a number of other small churches. In time, as he matured spiritually, he began to understand that by ‘church’ Jesus might have been referring to the institutional church of the medieval period as well as to the People of God and their needs. Francis was called—and in time responded to—a vision which far exceeded his own imaginative capacity.

This week which bears the name of Il Poverello (‘the little poor man”) of Assisi is celebrating two ‘churches’, each of which has both its physical aspect as well as its broader embodiment in terms of the people it serves.

On Saturday, September 27, William Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Congregation of the Faith and former archbishop of San Francisco, dedicated the ‘new’ Porziuncula chapel at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi. Over the past several years, artists and artisans from both Europe and the United States have been engaged in a labor of love to produce a nearly full-scale (78%) replica of the little chapel so beloved by Francis himself and celebrated as the cradle of the spiritual movement which bears his name. The project was spearheaded by San Franciscan Angela Alioto, whose passionate involvement insured the completion of the $4 million project. As part of the National Shrine’s Renaissance Project, the Porziuncula chapel is intented to create a visible Franciscan presence in the City of St. Francis—a center of hospitality and evangelization in the heart of the traditionally Italian North Beach neighborhood--- and in close proximity to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Less than a mile away from the Porziuncula, the St. Anthony Foundation is celebrating both a building (it’s newly completed multi-service center) and the people it serves in the Tenderloin neighborhood. Founded on October 3, 1950 by Franciscan Father Alfred Boeddeker, the St. Anthony Dining Room and Foundation has served more than 35 million (!) meals to the city’s poor and homeless population—without government funds.

For decades, thousands of volunteers from throughout the City and the Bay Area have come to SAF to assist in this effort. The new multi-service center will house a medical clinic, dining facilities, social services, and a ‘state of the art’ computer center for San Francisco’s poor. While not technically a ‘church’, the Foundation certainly functions as a ‘living building’ made of ‘living stones’ through its direct presence among the marginalized and abandoned.

Two " churches". Two celebrations. Two important visual reminders of Christ’s Presence and Love. Two ways of reaching out to the world in the spirit of the Gospel and through the inspiring example of St. Francis. The injunction of Jesus to ‘repair my church’ is no less compelling to us today. The invitation and challenge are equally personal and global. How can I (we) respond to the call of Jesus to ‘rebuild’ the Church in our own time and society? That’s remains the compelling nature of the call to Franciscan life.