A few words about Francis

Every year at the beginning of October (how did it get to be October!?), we remember St Francis of Assisi, who died somewhere around October 4, 1226.  On Sunday, at the 9:15 service, we will bless pets (and perhaps a colonial horse or chicken), an activity that is usually associated with Francis.

There's a lot of stuff that is associated with Francis, some of it probably true and much of it more in the line of undocumented tradition.  Some make him out to be something of a Dr. Doolittle, talking to the animals, or a early-adopting hippie cavorting around singing about Brother Sun and Sister Moon.  There are stories of his stripping himself naked and handing all his clothing back to his father in a dramatic acting out of his renunciation of the world and embrace of Lady Poverty. He may or may not have been taken prisoner in his early twenties, and he may or may not have brokered a peace accord between Christians and Muslims in Palestine.  He is portrayed as both very simple (see, above, cavorting) and as a major player in the Roman church, traveling about Europe and the Middle East making deals of various kinds.

Francis is one of the Western world's most popular saints. And he does seem to have been pretty well-known in his own time. Many young men and women were drawn to his embrace of poverty and barefoot itineracy, at least for a while.  They were drawn to the joy with which he lived his life, a joy that was grounded, oddly enough, in his giving away all his possessions. It turned out, however, that most people discovered that living happily in poverty, that actually being free of possessions and worldly cares, that embracing a life of embracing lepers (another activity for which Francis was famous) was really hard.  Really, really hard.

The Gospel reading for today features lines of scripture many of us know well: "Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."  But if you know this scripture from the Rite 1 Liturgy for Holy Eucharist, you may remember it a little bit differently: "Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you."

The first translation suggests coming to God and handing over one's burdens, maybe for good.  An idea that has great appeal to many of us who are overwhelmed and unsure about how much emotional stuff we can carry and for how long.  There are times when I realize I'm trying to be responsible for things that are not my responsibility or things that are simply beyond my capability, and I am relieved and comforted by the invitation to simply lay those things down at the altar, to give over to God the things I cannot bear myself alone.

But when it comes to Francis, the joyful man who gave away everything and eventually even received the stigmata, the marks of Christ's wounds in his own body, I think the older translation is more suitable.  Come to me with your heavy burdens and I will refresh you.  I will infuse you with what you need to go on, refreshed, renewed, recharged. 

Could this be the key to how someone could embrace poverty and live the way Francis lived? Knowing that God would always be there to refresh him, no matter how dire his circumstances? Is that how he was able to be joyful while begging for his bread and doing without the comforts of a home and shoes and decent clothing?  Because for him God is there at every turn, not to take over or invite him to give up his work but to offer refreshment?

Well, that's something to think about, not in a "I have to bear everything and keep on going until I drop because that's what taking up my cross means" way but a "I am free from bondage to money and power and privilege and can focus on the least of these because I know God will renew me whenever things get tough" kind of way.  Francis was filled with love for others because he knew he was filled and would be refilled every day with God's love for him.  

Why wouldn't he be simply glad?


Great post! I've had a long-time admiration for St. Francis. I have never heard the translation/interpretation of the Gospel passage you have related here, but I like it. In a way it is much more realistic and true to life. Gives me a new image to contemplate during those tough times.
Thanks, Charles. Glad this was helpful to you!
Perpetua said…
I too love this interpretation, Penny and agree that it is eminently fitting for Francis, who is one of my inspirations. I've saved this as food for meditation, for which many thanks.
Thanks, Perpetua! I hope you are settling in among your (now unpacked?) boxes!