Tag Archives: Saint Francis of Assisi

The Shock of the Desert

Ray Clifton tssf gave three talks for the Day of Penitence for Queensland-B Tertiaries. We post them here because many more Tertiaries will benefit from them.

2021 Day of Penitence, St. Francis College, Milton, 13th March “Transformation within the desert” in this time of the pandemic.

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Talk 1 – Eucharist – ‘The Shock of the Desert’
Introduction

I would like to thank the Regional Team for inviting me to offer these reflections with you over this quiet day. I offer these little words and the invitation to journey with me in the company of Francis and in the Holy Spirit to reflect on the heart of our call to live the Gospel in these challenging times. We will have the opportunity to recognize where we have wandered in search of our own agenda, resented others and denied others grace. We will also have the space to see the ways God invites us to return to serving others where we are called, joyfully and generously.

In these talks we will use the metaphor of the desert and look at the Story of the Prodigal Son to reflect on the experience of the Pandemic. We will take what we have learnt from the desert of the Pandemic as we look to emerge into a changed place. The talks will lead us from ‘The Shock of the Desert’ to ‘Exploring the strange land’ and onto ‘Learning from the desert’.

The inherited European view of Desert in Australia thinks of Desert as a place of vast space, no life, a thing to be conquered and dangerous. To first nation peoples, the desert is a place of life, song lines and stories as well as resources.
David Attenborough at the beginning of a series on Deserts says, “A third of the land on our planet is desert. These great scars on the face of the Earth appear to be lifeless. But, surprisingly, none are. In all, life manages somehow to keep a precarious hold.”

In the desert, a variety of plants, mainly cacti, range from the tall and spiny to small and very low (almost submerged). These symbols of resilience and adaption to the harsh environment, all have ways of capturing water, protection from predators, and flowers to attract pollinators.

This view of deserts gives us, along with the challenges to life of this Pandemic time, a new way of seeing possibilities and of ‘being’ people of hope and life living in solidarity with others facing the same challenges.

For billions of people, 2020 is a year best forgotten. However, as we reflect on the last year and our continued experience of the Pandemic, we continue to live with unprecedented change and uncertainty. Nations, communities, and individuals, we all live with the scars of the experience and long for a return to how things were pre-COVID.

The great shock of the Pandemic, as it gathered pace, reached into every community and home. Even without the confronting experience of contracting the virus or the loss of someone close to us, we have all been affected.
During the Pandemic, some people experienced isolation. This was accompanied by fear of COVID and lead to separation at critical times of need such as funerals, sickness, and older people living alone. There were protests at restrictions of movement and being, forced to quarantine. A great number of people lost jobs and livelihoods. We also found ourselves confronted by panic buying.

Life was being pared back to basics.

A Tale of Two Sons – Broken Paradise
The Younger Son

In the familiar story of the Prodigal Son, the younger of them said to his father,
“Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” …A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.’

The son consumed with dreams and his own desires let loose a shock wave through his family and community and one which would consume him too. This younger son, oblivious to the effect on his father and everyone else leaves home with paradise in his eyes and ultimately plunges himself into isolation.

At first this desert place is a rich place full of exotic experiences. A place where he immerses himself in the pleasure and people money could buy. This oasis is only full of the paradise he desires, as long as his resources last. Very soon, this place becomes a broken paradise.

This desert now becomes an empty and isolating place. The shock settles in for the younger son as he is left with no one and nowhere to go. No way out.

The older son

In this story we only find out at the end what the impact has been for older son of this shock experience of desert time in the family. The older son returns from a day’s work to find his brother, not only home, but being treated with a ring, fine clothes, and a feast. It’s unbelievable, unjust, and insulting. The older son reveals the anger and hurt he has held since his brother left when he replies to his father, ‘ “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”

The shock of this desert time for this older brother is that his belief in duty owed to his father and toiling for reward weren’t required. Duty and working hard, as important as they might be narrowed his focus, lead to angry judgements, and displaced the reason for respecting his father – Love.

Francis

Francis’ experiences of chasing pleasure and chivalry lead to his desert where the true focus of his life would be exposed. Francis, the ringleader of parties and carousing, the dreamer who pursued fame and heroism as a knight was gradually pared back by God. The isolation of Francis’ imprisonment in the war between Assisi and Perugia while he waited for his father to pay a ransom, his illness and the dream on the eve of battle as a knight, began to expose the emptiness of his quest and begin the journey to desire God alone.

Gradually this journey would turn Francis from selfishness to making God known through compassion and solidarity with others and all living things. Francis would be shaped by the shock of his desert and find springs of joy and life overflowing in in that same place.

Conclusion

As we reflect on the Pandemic and our experiences at this Day of Penitence, may we see afresh. To see the life-giving gifts of this uncomfortable desert and respond to God’s call to live a new life acknowledging those things that brought us disconnection from our communion with God, those around us, the environment and ourselves.

* What was your experience of the Pandemic?
* Which son do you identify with as you grappled with the shock of the ‘desert’?
* Like Francis, in what ways has this pandemic exposed your plans and desires or resentment?

Mary of Nazareth: The Franciscan Connection

Mary of Nazareth
Part One: the Franciscan Connection
by Pirrial Clift tssf

The approaching Feast of the Annunciation [25th March] prompted me to write something about Mary, the Patron Saint of all Franciscans – and the Franciscan connection seems an obvious place to begin.

Devotion to Mary has been part of Christian praxis since very early times, however at times it has been spread a little too thickly on the daily bread of the Church, which led to a virtual abandonment of Marian devotion from many Anglican circles. However Mary was not totally forgotten, as evidenced by the little side-chapels dedicated to the glory of God in her name, beautified with fresh flowers, where candles are lit and prayers rise heavenwards. Mother’s Union keeps her memory alive too, honouring Mary as the Mother of God; and dedicates their work to the support and spiritual care of families, always remembering Mary’s vital part in Jesus’ life.

St. Francis’ devotion to Mary is patently clear when we consider that he wrote the antiphon ‘Holy Virgin Mary’ which was recited at both beginning and end of the seven Daily Offices – that’s 14 times each day!

Antiphon: Holy Virgin Mary
Holy Virgin Mary, among the women born into the world there is no-one like you. Daughter and servant of the most high and supreme King, and of the Father in heaven; Mother of our most holy Lord Jesus Christ, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us with Saint Michael the Archangel, all the powers of heaven and all the saints, at the side of your most holy beloved Son, our Lord and Teacher.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
[Francis of Assisi. Early Documents. The Saint. Ed. Regis J Armstrong et al P 141, and see footnote.]

The Angelus – also known as The Memorial of the Incarnation – has been chanted by laity, clergy and religious throughout Christendom at dawn, noon and sunset for hundreds of years, accompanied by the ringing of bells in sets of three, symbolising the Trinity. It began as the repetition of three Hail Mary’s and the tolling bell after Compline in monastic communities, and gradually developed into the form we know. It is documented as being used as early as the twelfth century by Franciscans. The Angelus uses Bible quotes interspersed with the Hail Mary [which is itself the combination of a bible quote and a prayer] to recount Mary’s fiat and Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, concluding with a humble prayer to be made worthy of Christ’s promises.

Some historians suggest that St Francis popularised it as a way of sanctifying the hours, influenced by hearing the Islamic ‘Call to Prayer’ when he visited the Sultan. Be that as it may, St Francis’s theology is certainly incarnational – he loved to reflect on and speak of Jesus’ life on earth; and saw Jesus’ face reflected in the faces of those he met, especially after his encounter with the leper. Jesus’ life and passion were frequently on his mind, and simple things such as the sight of a couple of crossed sticks or a lamb triggered the remembrance of his sacrificial love and suffering.

Many religious still follow this tradition – I imagine the First Order Brothers at Stroud continue to do so. Across Europe when the bells rang people paused in their work to pray and remember that God is with us. During my Monastery years I followed in Sr. Angela’s footsteps and was frequently joined by Monastery guests praying along or simply listening – often asking questions later. These days Brigid the cat accompanies me onto the veranda first thing each morning to pray the Angelus. Sadly, we have no bell.

The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,
and she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
blessèd are you among women,
and blessèd is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord,
let it be to me according to your Word.
Hail Mary…

The Word became flesh,
And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary…

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

We beseech you, O Lord,
that as we have known the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ
by the message of an angel,
so by his cross and resurrection
we may come to the glory of the resurrection. Amen.

The Salutation of the Virgin Mary

Hail, O Lady, Holy Queen,
Mary, holy Mother of God, who are the virgin made Church, chosen by the Most High Father in heaven, whom he consecrated by his most holy Beloved Son
and the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, in whom there was and is all fullness of grace and every good.
Hail, his Palace! Hail his Tabernacle! Hail his Dwelling! Hail his Robe! Hail his Servant! Hail, his Mother! And hail, all you holy virtues, which are poured into the hearts of the faithful through the grace and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, that from being unbelievers, you may make them faithful to God.
[Francis of Assisi: Early Documents. The Saint, Ed. Regis J. Armstrong et al. P163]

Part one – The Saint – in the trilogy ‘Early Documents’ describes this piece, written by St. Francis, as a ‘litany of greetings describing Mary’s role in the plan of salvation’. We will take a closer look at ‘The Salutation’ next time.

William Short OFM writes that the simplicity, poverty and humility of God revealed in Jesus are found in the Eucharist and in Mary, especially through the feast of Christmas. [Poverty and Joy. William J Short OFM, p40-42] Mary’s simple trust in God, revealed through her humble acceptance of God’s will at the Annunciation, and her lived poverty, echo Jesus’ abandonment of his own will and life to God: she becomes a model of discipleship. Was she the first Christian? Mary gave her life to Jesus, following him faithfully all the way to the Cross – and beyond.

Beggars I Have Met

by Pirrial Clift tssf

St Francis’ famous encounter with a leprous beggar was transformative. My dear friend and onetime parish priest Val Rogers said the only way the rich will get into heaven is if the poor come out and lead us in by the hand. If this is true, I imagine St Francis will be carried jubilantly through the pearly gates on the shoulders of a great crowd of poor people.

Val’s words are sobering, especially when I consider beggars I have not dealt kindly with. That woman on my Moscow hotel steps in ’98 at 1 am, persistent and shrill in her pleas for help for her 3 children. Another woman walking beside me, repeatedly demanding assistance in Derby St. Newcastle…. I gave nothing to either of them, but they are permanently ingrained in my memory. Sometimes I am caught unawares – my coping mechanisms don’t seem to be in place – and I just want to close the beggar out. This happened again in Beijing as I left St Joseph’s Church. A man pushed forwards and thrust his two stumps – where once there had been forearms and hands – right in my face: I recoiled in horror and walked away. Just walked away.

In St Mark’s Square Venice I gave a woman something, and was immediately confronted by another woman, beautifully dressed and groomed. She scolded me for my gift. They’re employed by the Mafia, she said. They’re all rogues and Gypsies. They’re frauds and liars: you are wasting your money, she said. I pondered this afterwards; what motivated a wealthy woman to accost a complete stranger with warnings about wasting money on beggars? In the Square people were enjoying enormous gelatos – they could be said to be wasting money on those gelati, but my ‘friend’ saw no need to reprimand them. In Istanbul a shopkeeper left her shop unattended to cross the street and utter similar warnings after I gave to a ragged Syrian boy whose shoes barely hung together, flapping as he walked away.

Of course there are tricksters and frauds amongst beggars, as there are amongst every social group; one memorable example was the woman with the horribly twisted and deformed leg outside St Peter’s in Rome. I just happened to be around when she folded up her fake leg and popped it in a bag, stretching out the whole limb she’d had tucked under her skirt before rising from the dirt and walking away. C’est la vie I said ruefully to myself, thinking of the money I and others had parted with. Still, she’d certainly worked hard for it, sitting there in the hot sun all day with one leg cramped up beneath her!

The thing is, I can’t tell the genuinely needy person from the others. After being duped and conned a few times at the Rectory door I surrendered to cynicism. The next fellow who knocked received a cool welcome, although I scrounged up some food and brought it out. That poor man stood right where he was and ate and ate – he was so hungry. Since then I find it better to obey the Lord’s command to give to everyone who asks of you; at least when I have my wits about me.

Ten weeks in Canterbury, UK brought me into contact with beggars regularly, on St Peter’s St, which was lined with stalls, buskers and beggars. I loved the buskers: some were accomplished musicians, others scratched out doleful melodies on un-tuned instruments or sang tonelessly with one eye on their hat, upturned in hopes of a few coins. How can I forget the girl who appeared to have got dressed in the dark out of the rag bag, with her hair stuck out in all directions and her baby in a pusher, singing ‘I’m getting married in the morning….’ on one note?

It seemed de rigueur to have a hat of some kind to collect money; a beanie, a sunhat; any piece of headgear. My favourite beggar had an old cap. He made no effort to entertain the passer-by, just sat in the same place night after night huddled against the wall, his head drooping disconsolately, shoulders hunched.

One night when I dropped a few coins they missed his cap. I stood appalled as he scrabbled in the dirt to pick them up, a hot feeling of shame flooding me. What was I doing, throwing money at him like scraps to a dog? I am so sorry, I said. That’s alright, he responded as he tucked his coins away. Thank you, and God bless you. Oh my! Here was I, the priest, being blessed by the beggar. I had not offered him a blessing, but he was blessing me. Like the drunk and Mother Teresa in Noel Rowe’s poem And so he says to her, our roles had reversed, the beggar was ministering to me. He taught me a lasting lesson about our common humanity. I resolved never to drop money like that again; and whenever it is possible to put the money into the person’s hand, and look them in the eye, offering God’s blessing. And maybe there’s time for a few words about the weather or the state of the nation.

Outside the Forbidden City in Beijing a long line of beggars sat in the baking sun without shade all day. It was like running the gauntlet of human suffering. Ancient ones clothed in rags, barely able to stand; someone accompanying an adult suffering Downs Syndrome doing pathetic little tricks for a bit of change; people with all manner of deformities. One young man haunts me; his horrific burn scars, and that missing arm that seems to have been ripped out of its socket – dear God! How can it be that he must beg for his food? What’s to become of him?

Another sight never to be forgotten was a tiny girl of about 5 sitting quite alone against a long stretch of the old city wall in Istanbul, a scrap of cardboard on the pavement asking for donations. Probably a Syrian refugee like many we encountered, the first being another lonely child – a boy of about 13 huddled into a corner of a building, crouched there, head low, a picture of abject misery. How long would it be before these children fell into the hands of predators? We passed them in the comfort of modern transport, in the safety and security that is ours by chance.

As Luther famously said, we are all beggars before God. Everything we have is given to us; the very breath in our lungs, our Sister Mother Earth with her fruits and grains and her tender and sometimes rugged beauty which opens our spirits to the presence of God. Our innate talents, we call ‘gifts’ – teaching perhaps, or painting, or organising – who but God is the Giver? Everything good in us, every rising hope or wave of generosity is God’s work in us; each spark of Life, be it temporal or eternal. If God turned away from us, we would cease to exist. Personally, I am always begging God for something.

St Francis said the only thing that is ours are our sins. Everything else is for sharing. Beggars are often on my mind. So many meetings – was one of them Christ? Did I turn away from him?

Following the Followers of Saint Francis – Sister Helen Julian’s new book

Helen Julian CSF, Franciscan Footprints: Following Christ in the ways of Francis and Clare,
Bible Reading Fellowship 2020

Paperback, 144 pages.
From $23 online, Kindle edition $11.99

Reviewed by Ted Witham tssf

Franciscan Footprints, like much of Franciscan spirituality, is deceptively simple. In this helpful and engaging book, Sister Helen Julian, Minister General of the Anglican Community of St Francis, tells the story of about 100 Franciscans over the last 800 years – from Saints Francis and Clare in the 12th Century to Padre Pio and Algy Robertson SSF in the 20th Century.

The stories of mainly individuals and some organisations are presented in nine thematic chapters. The first two chapters tell the stories of the original founders, the two Assisi saints (Francis and Clare), and the founders of the Anglican Franciscans, including Sister Rosina Mary CSF, who founded the Community of Saint Francis in 1905.

The titles of further chapters, ‘Thinkers and Writers’, ‘Mystics and Spiritual Writers’, ‘Social Care, Social Justice’, ‘Martyrs’, ‘Missionaries and Preachers’, ‘Pastors’ and ‘Simply Living’, display the breadth of the Franciscan way of life. Placing each of her characters into these themes allows Sister Helen to ‘follow the followers’ and explore the many paths along which Franciscans follow Jesus.

The Franciscan intellectual tradition is represented strongly by the 13th Century Bonaventure and the 21st Century Sister Ilia Delio.

Many of these Franciscans are new to me. Felix of Cantalice (born 1515) was a ploughman who became a lay Franciscan friar. He begged for the friars in Rome for many years, and was known as Brother Deo Gratias, because he exclaimed, ‘Thanks be to God’ (Deo Gratias) for every gift. He sang simple songs in the street and was beloved of children and the poor. His story is told under ‘Simply Living’: his life was seemingly uneventful, but by faithfully being who he was attracted many.

It was good to see the United Nations NGO Franciscans International in its context as an expression of the Franciscan family’s social care and social justice.

I commend Franciscan Footprints warmly. It is a good book to share within the Franciscan family and beyond.

At his death, Saint Francis said, ‘I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours.’ Helen Julian’s book will help both long-term Franciscans and the curious to learn what Christ is teaching them what their life might be. The characters in her book have made their Franciscan footprints. Readers will find much in this book to help them make their own Franciscan Footprints.

We all like sheep are gone astray

John 10:1-10

One of the tragedies of our times is the war on animals, the war we have been waging for two or three centuries, seizing their territory and subjecting them to ever more inhumane conditions.

Human activity was one of the causes of this year’s bush-fires in the Eastern States which took away from koalas much of their habitat. Iconic species such as the Bengali tiger and the white rhinoceros are on the brink of extinction. Presumably the thylacine (the Tasmanian tiger) and the dodo would still be thriving in Tasmania and Mauritius if human beings had not ravaged their living space.

Only a few wild animals thrive under the relentless expansion of human activity. Mobs of kangaroos near my town relish in the green pasture and endless water supplies human beings have created.

We clobber our domestic animals too. In the past decades, more and more cattle have been squeezed into feed-lots, unable to exercise and terrified by their imprisonment. Battery hens are confined to less than a square metre and never see the sky or scratch in the fresh air.

We use horses and dogs for sport. Not only do they strain to entertain us, but our society allows some of their keepers to inflict on them excruciating pain when they are away from public view.

Our treatment of animals shames us human beings. We are given no licence by Scripture to dominate the environment and crush our fellow-creatures. There is no Biblical excuse for setting ourselves up as gods destroying whatever we will.

We consider ourselves superior to other creatures, but the evidence shows that we do not make a good shepherd. We are cruel and despotic in our treatment of the environment.

In today’s Gospel, John teaches us two things about animals and salvation. The first is that Jesus is the good shepherd. No creature, including us human beings, can put ourselves above other creatures. Jesus is our shepherd, caring for us, and he is the shepherd of all creation, restoring all things, not only the human world.

Secondly, we are called to be part of the community of creatures, living together with animals and ecosystems as our brothers and sisters. This is the great vision of Saint Francis of Assisi: to live in harmony with all life as part of the community of creation.

The Good Shepherd proclaims to us that God will draw into a community all his creation and that we will live in harmony with death adders and scorpions, both of them wild animals Jesus ‘was with in the wilderness’ (Mark 1:13a), as we will with cats, horses, and especially dogs, the animals who have co-evolved with us and who are our familiars.

There are many signs of new life. Most farmers I know are concerned about any animal cruelty and do all in their power to care for their animals. WWF and other organisations keep on reminding us of the plight of the non-human world and establish programs to restore habitat and rescue species. More and more middle-class people express real care for pets. Our Jack Russell Lottie is our little sister, a member of our family. There are new ways of feeding the hungry that do not exploit animals, so I have hope that lifting the poor out of poverty will be done ethically.

– Ted Witham tssf

[‘We have like sheep gone astray.’ (Isaiah 53:6). Quoted in I Peter 2:25, and in the Introduction to Evening Prayer in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer]