Vicar's Musings for St Francis Day
7 October, 2018
On Thursday, St Francis' Day, a number of parishioners joined me for a Quiet Day at the Church of the Resurrection, in Mount Macedon. Our host was the Vicar, Fr Dennis Webster, and St Peter's Bookroom Manager, Carol O'Connor, led our reflections on St Francis of Assisi delivering three delightful addresses on his conversion, the profound suffering he endured, and the inspirational Canticle of the Creatures written just before his death. Carol shared with us her own translation of the Canticle, which you can find in the latest edition of our parish magazine "Apostrophe"; it is a very prayerful rendition of this beautiful song of praise: "Lord above all, source of all goodness: praise, glory and honour and blessing. You alone are God, unnameable to all your created people. Praise you, my beloved Maker ..."
Today we celebrate this great saint at all our Masses, and as Francis has taught us, we too will be blessing the animals. At the 9.30am Family Mass, we will also be baptising Amy and Cedric, children of parishioners Sally and Carlisle Richardson. After Family Mass, from 10.30am, there will be a petting zoo in the Parish Hall Courtyard, where our furry friends may offer us a blessing in return! My thanks to Katherine Barnett, Colleen Clayton, Lynda Crossley, Rachel Ellyard and others in the Children's Ministry Team for all your efforts in making today such a glorious celebration of St Francis.
One of the things that has struck me this year, reflecting again on St Francis, is how his renowned love and joy is born out of such profound struggle and suffering. The optimism of the Canticle of the Creatures was forged in the crucible of betrayal, physical ill-health, isolation and rejection that marked the last years of his life. This too is a prayer of St Francis: "God, I have told you of my life; you have placed all my tears in your sight. All my enemies were plotting evil against me; they took counsel together. They repaid me evil for good and hatred for my love. My holy Father, King of heaven and earth, do not leave me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help" (see Wendy Murray, A Mended and Broken Heart: the Life and Love of St Francis of Assisi, p.134).
The scene on the front page of our pew sheet, painted by Jan van Eyck in 1432, depicts the saint in the midst of this turmoil of body, mind and spirit. The five wounds of Christ are a manifestation of the gargantuan spiritual battle in which St Francis is engaged. His companion, the prayer warrior by his side, is St Clare. She feels each blow, each wound, and kneels alongside her spiritual lover in intercession, as she has done since they were young adults. St Francis will soon tell her that he wants to give up the fight, to stop preaching, and to retreat for the rest of his life into solitude. She will urge him to change his mind, insisting that he remains faithful to God's call on his life, and St Francis will impetuously arise from his dispair and start preaching to a flock of birds. Deo gratias!
The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster
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