St Francis Day
The feast day of St Francis (4th October) marks the end of the Season of Creation. Francis was born in Italy, in 1181 AD, into a wealthy family. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant and made frequent trips to France, and their family life was lived amongst the bourgeoisie of the day. Growing up Francis received elite schooling and as a young man was known for his flamboyant lifestyle and extravagance. As a young man, St. Francis enduring a prolonged period of illness during which Francis would spend time in the forests and caves surrounding Assisi and it is here that he is believed to have received a vision in a dream. Francis was convinced that he was called to follow a life of poverty, in following the way of Jesus. Francis would later give back all his belongings to his father, including the clothes on his back, and choose instead to live amongst the lepers. Francis was known for preaching not only to people but also to nature, as seen in one of his most well-known writings, The Canticle to Brother Sun.
The prophet Jeremiah laments the fall of the once great city of Jerusalem. The city was once was the home of many and a favourite amongst travellers is now empty. A great, autonomous city is now subject to others. A city once characterised by joy and is now known for its weeping. The people of the city, who saw themselves as God’s chosen, and thus set apart from other nations, now live amongst other nations, away from the symbols that were to remind them that they are God’s covenant people.
Jeremiah was sent to the people of Jerusalem to prophesy that God would bring calamity upon them if they did not obey God’s commandments. The people of Israel ignore the prophet’s calls resulting in the destruction of their city and their enslavement by the Babylonians. Today there are many in our world working tirelessly in the advocacy for our care of creation. Resource into the cause of climate change has concluded that it is no longer in doubt that human activity is the primary cause of climate change. We are being called to live our lives in such a way that the earth is able to recover. Our failure to do so might lead to our lamenting at the destruction of the places we call home.
This Psalm captures the spirit of the Israelites in captivity in Babylon. From the first verse see the posture of sitting, an indication of the sorrowful mood that they are in. The rivers of Babylon as a location likewise make it clear that they are away from the promised land and living in a foreign land. They have moved from the known to the unknown This Psalm is a lament of the people of Israel who are captive in Babylon. They are separated from the places and worship and long for the temple and the gathering of the community of faith. The Psalmist however is clear that they although they are being mocked by their capturers and feel the separation from their homeland, their connect to God remains and this is what give them the strength to face what life throws at them.
As we remember St. Francis today and we see the separation of the people from the promised land, it serves as a symbol of how far humanity has moved from being connected to creation. Our care for animals has been broken, as we see in the poaching of rhinos, to the extent that the world’s last male Northern White Rhino has died and that subspecies now faces extinction. The ongoing battle between humans and baboons in the Western Cape is another example of the inability of humans and animals to co-exist. Our recent water crises around the country was a reminder to consider how we use our natural resources.
Today we also consider that St. Francis chose to live amongst those who were removed from their homes to live in leper colonies. This Psalm also helps us to consider those who have been moved off their land for political and/or economic reasons and yearn to return. We hear the cries of those who long for their land to be restored. We think of the many in our country who have been moved off the land and have a desire to return. As we hear the cries of the people of Israel as they remember Zion, we remember all those who are weeping as they remember where they have come from and we pray for the landless throughout the country.
We consider the many climate refugees who are forced out of their homeland through drought and flooding and the salination of their crop lands due to sea level rise.
We live in a world that is suffering because of human greed. So many of the problems we face are as a result of being disconnected from creation, from God, from each other and even from ourselves. Our two readings from the Old Testament tell of the disconnect between the people of Israel and the promised land. This disconnection is seen in the destruction of the land (Lamentations 1: 1-6) and is heard in the cries of the people (Psalm 137). The Biblical disconnection comes after God has warned His people to turn from their ways or else face his anger. But the people refused, knowing that they are God’s own people and God would always act on their behalf.
The story of St. Francis is the story of a man who had all the material possessions he could ever dream of. His family ensured that he received the best education and he found himself in the company of the elite of his day. Francis only really found himself once he discovered his connection to God and not to things. This connection made Him see himself as connected to those who suffer, to the point that Francis lived in a leper colony in order to be closer to the people of God. Francis also spoke of the elements of nature as being connected to him, calling them Brother Sun and Sister Moon. St. Francis is remembered as the patron saint of the environment, but his true legacy is in showing us the importance of being connected and that this leads us to seeking for God in everything.
Words by Rev Shaun Cozett. The weekly pointers for the Season of Creation www.seasonofcreation.org have been provided by Reverend Canon Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator at Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
Most high, and glorious God,
Enlighten the darkness of my heart
And give me, Lord, a correct faith
A certain hope, and perfect charity,
Sense and knowledge
So that I may carry out Your holy and true command.
(A prayer of St. Francis)
Pray for the many climate refugees who are forced out of their homeland through drought and flooding and the salination of their crop lands due to sea level rise.
Pray for shelter and support for communities displaced in Nepal, Bangladesh and India by the intense Monsoon rains in July.
Published on 16 September 2019