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The Feast of St. Francis - E-Chronicle, October 2017
Aloha o ke Akua,
In the Episcopal Church’s liturgical calendar, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) is observed on October 4th. In many of our churches, the day will include the blessing of pets. This is a quaint custom that I find has little to do with St. Francis. As a parish priest in Indiana, my congregation annually hosted such blessings for the community in the parking lot of a veterinarian’s clinic on a major road. We provided treats for the pets and their owners. These services can encourage pastoral connection for many people. Frankly, however, I’m not keen on such blessings on Sunday mornings (or at other major weekend liturgies). Why? Pastorally, some people have allergies and some are afraid of animals. Having these “St. Francis” blessings (especially inside a church) at Sunday liturgies excludes some of the Body of Christ from the fellowship and worship. Theologically, I also think that such blessings draw attention away from the truly important focus of our Sunday celebration as Christians – Jesus Christ, praise of God and the Sacraments. That aside, I encourage churches to explore the pastoral and evangelistic possibilities of the blessing of pets.
I’m not sure, however, that such pet blessings really have much to do with St. Francis. I hope they don’t distract from the message of the poor man from Assisi. His message was Jesus Christ: to know God in Jesus Christ, to live like Jesus Christ and share Jesus Christ with the world. I admit that I am just an “aspiring” Franciscan. I have not yet had the courage to truly follow Jesus Christ as Francis did.
The way to God through Jesus Christ as Francis taught is marked by clear Gospel principles. He offers a staggeringly simple way. It is plain that possessions and the need to secure them lead to self-centeredness and greed. The answer was to own nothing. If there is no wealth, there will be no war. He certainly understood that not all are called to radical simplicity and voluntary poverty. All Christians are called to be sure that we gather to ourselves no more than “enough” for life. Access and extravagance have no place in the realm of God. While others go hungry and suffer, we with many possessions and security still have too much. I still have too much.
Francis also reminded us that the way to God includes celibacy and chastity. In his delightful book, Franciscan Spirituality: Following St. Francis Today [(SPCK, 1994), p. 69], Brother Ramon [a member of the Society of St. Francis (an order in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church) who died in 2000]:
Francis insisted that obedience is a necessary part of the Christian life. Brother Ramon (p. 72) writes, “Obedience is the surrender to God’s will directly, through the Spirit’s voice in scripture and community. This is a disciplined witness in a self-oriented society.” Obedience demands both listening and humility. “Obedience” must begin with the admonition in James 1:19: “Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.” Within a Franciscan order of brothers or sisters, this obedience is to those in authority. For those who are ordained in the Episcopal Church, it includes obedience to the Constitution and Canons (including the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer) of the Episcopal Church and to those in authority. For all Christians, it means that we will together seek God in the world and live in a way that embodies our faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ.
Finally, and perhaps where the blessing of pets fits with Francis, he did delight in creation as a window into wonder of God. In the first “biography” of the Saint (written in about 1229), Thomas of Celano writes, “How great do you think was the delight the beauty of flowers brought to his soul whenever he saw their lovely form and noticed their sweet fragrance? He would immediately turn his gaze to the beauty of that flower, brilliant in springtime, sprouting from the root of Jesse. Whenever he found an abundance of flowers, he used to preach to them and invite them to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason” [see “The Life of Saint Francis” in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, edited by R.J. Armstrong, J.A.W. Hellmann and W.J. Short (New City Press, 2001), p. 251]. The blessing of pets on St. Francis Day might well be a call to delight in creation and a chance to call of God’s creatures to the praise of God in Jesus Christ.
The earliest Franciscan manuscripts ascribe the following prayer to Francis himself and they tell us that it was offered before the Crucifix in San Damiano [see Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, p. 40]:
enlighten the darkness of my heart,
and give me
and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge,
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.
In the end, this is the way of St. Francis: to seek and to do God’s will with joy and thanksgiving.
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace gladly to renounce the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfect joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Aloha ma o Iesu Kristo, ko mākou Haku,
Special Message from Guam - August 13, 2017
News of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, arrived here on Guam as people continued to process the threat of missiles pointed at their island home. It has been difficult to fathom that the evils of the 20th century have again invaded our world. The grave destruction of the atomic bomb was launched from a nearby island. The great fear of nuclear annihilation has returned to our daily lives. Jackbooted thugs dare to wave the Nazi flag with the swastika and initiate violence with hate-filled rhetoric. Racism is again publicly joined to violence in the streets of our nation.
It seems that human beings have not learned the lessons of the past. We have short memories. Once again, the followers of Jesus Christ are to take up the cause of peace and justice. As Christians, I think we begin with the admonition in the Letter of James [3:13-18 (Common English Bible)]:
With such an attitude, we prepare ourselves for the days ahead.
When Jesus sets the standard of true happiness [in Matthew 5:3-12 (Common English Bible)], it is measured by care, mercy and righteousness:
It is such happiness that changes lives, heals the broken and transforms the world. There is no room for war and hate in God's world.
So, to prepare for the days ahead, I call upon all Episcopalians in Hawai'i and Micronesia to say these two prayers aloud everyday from now until November 30:
In addition, I ask that these two prayers both be said at the conclusion of the Prayers of the People as the "Concluding Collects" at Sunday celebrations of the Holy Eucharist through the Last Sunday after Pentecost (Christ the King Sunday).
We must be prepared to face hate with love and war with peace. The effort will be to love. As Dorthy Day urged:
Your brother in Christ Jesus,
The Rt. Rev. Robert L. Fitzpatrick, Bishop
The Episcopal Diocese of Hawai'i and
The Episcopal Church in Micronesia
A Word to the Church for the World, released on September 20, 2016.
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