St. Francis Day

November 19, 2009 at 6:35 pm (Pilgrimage)

Fr. Craig, Charles, Fr. John, Amanda

Note: Since mid-February, 2010, I left CCP/ACC for an Anglican Church better centered on Settlement and Reformation principles. I miss CCP’s beautiful worship and people. Visit my Anglican blog here for more of my sundry convictions. Anyway, I wish the CCP the best. Here follows the story of St. Francis and my bunnies!

This belongs to Oct. 4rth, St. Francis Day. Amanda, my girlfriend, and I brought my bunnies for blessings. About a year ago I was hesitant regarding blessings upon animals. But, blessings are prayers conducted by the priests for the well-being of our pets.  Our litany contains prayers for both livestock and harvests. I imagine blessings upon animals is old, harkening back to our agricultural days where the survival andprosperity of livestock was important. St. Francis has this curious association about him, making his liturgical day akin to our Prayer Book rogation days. The connection between God, seasons, growth, harvests, and cycles of fast/feast is something I hope to explore. Perhaps re-establishing St. Francis as regularly observed liturgical day would behoove or at least preserve an agrarian memory? Anyway, the prayer I gave for my  bunnies were they be protected from the devouring racoons and escape the many hawks in the sky. Life can be very scary for a bunny.

St. Francis and the Rabbit:

“One day a brother brought a rabbit who had been caught in a trap to St. Francis. Francis advised the rabbit to be more alert in the future, then released the rabbit from the trap and set it on the ground to go its way. But the rabbit hopped back up onto Francis’ lap, desiring to be close to the saint.
Francis took the rabbit a few steps into the woods and set it down. But it followed Francis back to his seat and hopped on his lap again!

Finally Francis asked one of his fellow friars to take the rabbit far into the woods and let it go. That worked. This type of thing happened repeatedly to Francis—which he saw as an opportunity to praise the glory of God. If the simplest creatures could be so endowed with God’s wonder, how much the more so we humans!”

bunnies going for prayers

St. Francis was principally an evangelist. We can look at Francis as an early progenitor for evangelical revival in the Church, e.g., Methodism. Francis founded 13th century mendicant orders. As a lay movement within the church they practiced the literal example of Christ’s life, vowing poverty and constant preaching. Francis himself was called after hearing Matt 10:7-9 read during Mass in the little church of Portiuncula, outside Assisi, “Preach as you go, saying The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand…Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer is worthy of his food’. Thus, began Francis’ public ministry.

The Logos:
Francis became such a reputed preacher, many followed him, forming chapters of Friar Minors across Europe. Francis moved the monastic life from the rural cloister to the urban poor, preaching to all men and creatures great and small. The power of Francis’s preaching was so strong, even the animals stopped to listen. Francis, speaking to the poor in heart, had a great love for the visible signs God gave man, not only the Word preached but God’s logos in nature. Perhaps upon his many wanderings, he composed the biblical hymn, known as the “Canticle of the Sun”. Surely on these long journeys between towns and cities, Francis thanked God for the rising Sun in after a cold night, a clean water brook, or the fruit off the vine alongside the road. At St. Joseph’s we sang the ‘Canticle of the Sun’ during the clerical recessional, It is found in the 1940 Hymnal, composed by Howard Chandler Robbins, 1939. hymn 307.

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord!
To thee be ceaseless praise outpoured,
And blessing without measure.
From thee alone all creatures came.
No man is worthy to thee name.
My Lord be praised by brother Sun,
Who through the skies his course doth run,
And shines in brilliant splendor:
With brightness he doth fill the day,
And signifies thy boundless sway.
My Lord be praised by sister moon
And all the stars, that with her soon
Will point the glittering heavens.
Let wind and air and cloud and calm
And weathers all, repeat the psalm.
By sister water be thou blessed,
Most humble, useful, precious, chaste:
Be praised by brother fire;
Jocund is he, robust and bright,
And strong to lighten all the night.
by mother earth my Lord be praised;
governed by thee she hath upraised
What for man’s life is needful.
Sustained by thee through ev’ry hour
She bringeth forth fruit, herb, and flower.
My Lord be praised by those who prove
In free forgivingness their love
Nor shrink from tribulation.
Happy, who peaceable endure;
Wit thee, Lord, their reward is sure.
For death our sister, praised be,
From whom no man alive can flee.
Woe to the unprepared!
But blest be they who do thy will
And follow thy commandments still.
Most High, omnipotent, good Lord,
To thee be ceaseless praise outpoured,
And blessing without measure.
Let creatures all give thanks to thee.
And serve in great humility. Amen

The thoughts of St. Francis may be found in the books his followers and he presumably wrote– his two Rules; the Regula Primitiva, Regula Bullata; and a later work called ‘Little Flowers’. Franciscan devotions captured the imagination of Victorian England. From the rules we receive a great, Western ascetic tradition which later the shaped holiness and spiritual societies of the 18th century, aka. the Great Awakening washing England and America. St. Francis’s chapters first arrived in England in Dover 1224 AD, and have left their legacy ever since, even the literalism of evangelical fundamentalism hearkens back to early Franciscans.

Holiness as Sacrament:
St. Francis was also reputed to carry the marks of the cross or stigmita upon him. He is the first stigmatic in history. Albeit perhaps pure legend, stigma made him like the cross, a living sacrament, communicating a medieval idea that greatly sanctified men themselves become vessels of grace for others, stirring faith.

Francis recieving stigmata

In 1224, two years before his death, he embarked on a journey to Mt. Alverna for a forty day fast. One morning near the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, a six winged angel appeared to Francis while he prayed. As the angel approached, Francis could see that the angel was crucified. He was humbled by the sight, and his heart was filled with elation joined by pain and suffering. When the angel departed, Francis was left with wounds in his hands, feet, and side as if caused by the same lance that pierced Christ’s side. The image of nails immediately appeared in his hands and feet, and the wound in his side often seeped blood. The flowing blood possessed a flowery odor, and mark remained without infection, never healing. St. Francis’ first biographer, Thomas of Celano, reports the event as follows in his 1230 First Life of St. Francis

“When the blessed servant of God saw these things he was filled with wonder, but he did not know what the vision meant. He rejoiced greatly in the benign and gracious expression with which he saw himself regarded by the seraph, whose beauty was indescribable; yet he was alarmed by the fact that the seraph was affixed to the cross and was suffering terribly. Thus Francis rose, one might say, sad and happy, joy and grief alternating in him. He wondered anxiously what this vision could mean, and his soul was uneasy as it searched for understanding. And as his understanding sought in vain for an explanation and his heart was filled with perplexity at the great novelty of this vision, the marks of nails began to appear in his hands and feet, just as he had seen them slightly earlier in the crucified man above him. His hands and feet seemed to be pierced by nails, with the heads of the nails appearing in the palms of his hands and on the upper sides of his feet, the points appearing on the other side. The marks were round on the palm of each hand but elongated on the other side, and small pieces of flesh jutting out from the rest took on the appearance of the nail-ends, bent and driven back. In the same way the marks of nails were impressed on his feet and projected beyond the rest of the flesh. Moreover, his right side had a large wound as if it had been pierced with a spear, and it often bled so that his tunic and trousers were soaked with his sacred blood.”

Francis was a monk but was eventually ordained to better meet pastoral needs of the urban poor he served, blessed into deaconate perpetual. Francis is certainly a hero and model of mine. In the last two years of his life, Francis returned to the fastness of eremetic life on Mount Alverna. I hope to take my family to the Sierras soon! God Bless.

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2 Comments

  1. rrs said,

    I found the bunnies!

    Here’s something you and this season have got me thinking about: In the Old Testament, God set up the feasts and fasts of ancient Israel to correspond with the busiest times of the agrarian year, with big holidays in the spring and fall, and smaller ones in the summer, but none during the farmers’ “downtime” of winter. This is in contrast to most other ancient Indo-European cultures. Contemporary Judaism has, of course, developed the holidays of Chanukah and Purim to fill in the gap, and Christians have Christmas and the related holidays. Why did God not appoint a holiday for the time of year society seems to most want (and have the most time) to celebrate?

    My wise college friend, now in that monastery in Oklahoma, was similarly initially uncomfortable with the idea of blessing animals. He pointed out, however, that the Bible records that animals can be possessed by demons, and it made sense to him to bless whatever could be possessed. Seems right to me, too.

    • chapelmouse said,

      Hi Rebekah,

      What struck me most about your message was the term “God appointing a time”. This is very interesting. There are three major festivals God did appoint in the OT– Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. There are also some lesser ones given by God (e.g., trumpets), and then there are the ones Israel herself founded to commemorate God’s specific intercessions– Chanukah and Purim. At least this is how I understand it. When reading the OT, the major festivals are called Sabbaths, and they are to be ‘everlasting marks’, fixed like the stars and moon, continuing until the end of time, etc..

      So, I always wondered how/if the Church continued the three? I see Easter as the equivalent of Passover (especially in the East. As you know Britain continued the orthodox date until Augustine of Canterbury) while Pentecost is ‘whitsun’, but that leaves Tabernacles. I’ve read material that argues Christ’s birth on Tabernacles, but I guess the victory against Saturnalia won, and Christmas day was established on Dec. 25. For me the big ‘gap’ is between Pentecost and Christmas. Orthodoxy and RC have the Assumption which is the closest approximation. We also have All Saints, but that’s off about a month, etc.

      Anyway, the Christian calendar dates are mostly established by custom and convention. I guess you could say they have a providential ordering. I always thought the permanence of OT feasts were interesting questions. But scripture further says that the resurrection established a ‘new heavens and new earth’ (the regathering of the Church), so a dogmatic reassertion of the old is problematic, especially when these dates were known by moons and stars? On another note: feasts are hard to do in agrarian economies at winter time. Winter is more often a time of fasting, at least the last month or two when food is stretched thin. Lent is really the last stretch of winter, and by fasting, reserves lasted longer. Perhaps Advent had a similar purpose– fasting so a mid-winter feast was possible?!

      Like your friend, I also had a hard time with blessing animals. But this was because I confused ‘blessing’ with Word and Sacrament which indeed bless but are given to men not animals. Here is a great article about the theology of blessing and prayer, and it help me understand the difference between prayers for livestock/pets/crops and men. Theology of Blessing

      But I do have problem, I think, when ‘holy water’ is sprinkled– if and when the water is understood to be ‘baptismal’. That’s more of ‘line crossing’ than praying. It indicates a confusion on what purposes baptism was ordained. Don’t forget my blog began over the question of regulativism. Despite my disagreements with Presbyterianism, I still believe there is a kind of regulativism with the Word and two sacraments. WE cannot change what God instituted. So long as it is not baptismal font water, then it’s adiaphora, custom, and great ways to visibly represent our prayers.

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