Sunday, October 4, 2009

St. Francis of Assisi

Some readers of this blog may not be familiar with the concept of saints or may have misconceptions of what a saint is. In essence, saints are just human beings who are held up in some Christian traditions to be special role models for other Christ followers. Saints were imperfect people who often led lives that would not have been considered by some to be very saintly. Indeed, some of them led pretty rowdy lives until they experienced some type of conversion or other transformational event that led them to try to follow the will of God. (Those are the types of saints I personally find most compelling!)

One of my favorite saints is St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is celebrated on October 4th. St. Francis (nĂ© Francesco di Bernardone) was born in the latter part of the twelfth century in an area of Europe that is now within the boundaries of modern Italy. His father was a successful merchant, and in his youth Francis enjoyed a life of relative decadence. While he was still young, however, Francis became disillusioned with wealth and commerce after a pivotal encounter with a man begging for alms in the marketplace. Eventually, Francis devoted his life to ministering to the poor and other outcasts in his society. Francis renounced his inheritance and chose a life of material poverty. Francis is known as the founder of the Franciscan religious order. He is also remembered for his tremendous love for all of God’s creation. He is considered to be the patron saint of animals and the environment.

Yesterday, my church celebrated the life of St. Francis with an annual service to bless the pets of parishioners. It was a beautiful service outside under a large shade tree. There were a large number of dogs (who all got along more or less), as well as a couple of cats, a fish, a snail and a baby tortoise. As birds chirped in nearby trees, our pastor reminded us of Francis’s life of voluntary simplicity and his great love of God’s creation. The sermon focused us on the blessings of animals in our lives, the beauty of the world God created for us, and our responsibility to be good stewards of these gifts.

“Prayer of St. Francis”

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;
and 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.

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