Preaching at Trinity+St. Peter’s
Saint Francis of Assisi, Friar transferred
6 October 2019
St. Matthew 11:25-30
There is a sentimentality, somewhat akin to the same sentimentalities that have enfeebled the feasts of Christmas and Easter, that has had a similar effect on the celebration of Saint Francis. I have at least one plaque at the door of my house with the requisite animals and flowers, the saint enrobed in a spotless and perfect habit. I’ve seen the birdbaths and statues that all celebrate the minor holiness of this man. I was reminded of the true message and example of Francis earlier this week when I and other priests, members of the Society of Catholic Priests, gathered at the international border of Mexico/United States in Nogales. Earlier at St. Andrew’s Church in Nogales we heard of that church’s ministry with children from Mexico, who are allowed to cross the border to receive medical and psychiatric care from volunteers from the north. It is in their midst that I could see Francis and Clare and all of their companions as they labored to feed and care for the poor.
Francis was destined for something different. The son of a wealthy cloth merchant, his early life was replete with fine clothing, the sport of war, and the ways of a rich young man. In a vision at the Chapel at San Damiano, just outside of Assisi, he saw and heard the crucified Christ who called upon him to “go and repair my house which, as you can see is falling into ruins.” After many instances of renouncing his wealth and giving to the poor at the expense of his wealthy family, Francis became a hermit, later asking others to join in his mendicant life, actually taking on the life that he was hoping to help and to mend.
In a presentation this week at the conference I was attending, The Very Reverend Andrew McGowan spoke to us about the connection of Eucharist and the poor. He further commented on the Francis story about the restoration of the chapel at San Damiano. “Perhaps,” he commented, “it is not the building that needs restoration and renewal, but the institution itself.” That is a sobering but enlivening thought – one that we ought to know well, here at Trinity+Saint Peter’s. Yes, there is a lot that needs to be done with this building – but there is more. How do we restore the soul of a congregation? How do we make it new and vital again? Fr. McGowan quoted from the great Orthodox bishop and saint John Chrysostom to invite us into an essential renewal. “if you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door,” Chrysostom said, “you will not find him in the chalice.” Fr. McGowan went on to add that we must accompany the gifts we bring to the eucharist, bread and wine and gifts for the upkeep of the parish, with gifts brought for aid to the poor. What might that look like here?
In the first reading for this morning, Jeremiah lifts-up an ancient prophetic understanding of what it means to be one of God’s people, one who knows God. “Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord.” Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, and others spoke to the needs and difficulties of their own time, but they speak to the challenges of our own time as well. If there is one thing that challenges this city, it is the matter of the poor and homeless. It flies in the face of our wealth and of our Christianity as well. It is a challenge for us.
At the wall in Nogales I witnessed what we really want to do with the poor and those different from us. We want to separate ourselves from them with Corten steel, mesh and razor wire. The goal is complete separation, lack of communication and contact. That seems to be the heart of our national agenda, but it should not be the heart of the church’s or our own agenda. What we are called to is what Jesus calls us to. He says to us, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Shouldn’t that be what we say to others, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heave burdens, and I will give you rest.” Repeat it in your mind and become comfortable with the words and with the intent.
Once in Berkeley, I walked with a former priest of this parish on Shattuck Avenue. In walking down the several blocks, we encountered several men and women begging on the street. To each one of them he gave attention, looking at them, greeting them. To each of them he gave $1 (he had a stash of bills in spite of his own financial difficulties). This went on for a couple of blocks, when he turned to me, handed me a handful of bills and said, “The next ones are yours.” In many ways he was instructing me to be a priest – a Christian.
If this makes us uncomfortable, we need to remind ourselves of Mary’s voice in the Magnificat,
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
It is all part of Luke’s agenda, lifting up the needs of the widow and the orphan, the poor and the homeless, the (as he called them) “little ones” in his society. It was Francis agenda as well. It should give us pause as we live our lives in relative comfort to not only pray for the comfort and care of others, but providing for them as well.
In a bit we will bless animals. This can serve as a good example of the Franciscan way; of the duties we are called to in Christ. These animals, these pets are dependent upon us. They give us companionship and comfort, but we, knowing their presence with us, we give them food, companionship, and shelter. If we can do it for these, then what can we do for our fellow human beings.
Chrysostom, again, “Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth, but theirs.” We are in this world that God has given us dependent upon one another. May Christ assist us in the task.