In Celebration of St. Francis

I really like St. Francis. At least, I like the idea of him. The idea that was brought to me by celebrating St. Francis day by blessing animals and by saying the prayer of St. Francis.

         You know the one. We’ll say it together in a few moments, actually. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Creator, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”

I love that prayer. When I’m walking into uncertain pastoral situations, and even some situations where I know what’s coming, I will softly pray to myself, Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

In the last few years I found out Francis didn’t write that prayer. Like what happens many times in Scripture, most notably in the Psalms and with some of the Epistles attributed to Paul, the prayer of St. Francis was written to honor him, but was not written by him.

I looked at some of the Canticles of Francis, which he is known to have written, in preparation for today, and what I found was a man who would be pushed to the fringes of modern Christianity. He was a man who put God first, in all things, and saw the goodness of God in all things – especially those things that society had pushed to the margins or dismissed as worthless.

If Francis were alive and practicing Christianity today, honestly, I think he’d be thrown out of the church. Even the Episcopal Church.

He called for a Christ centered life, one that disregarded material things and wealth in favor of loving and respecting all of creation. A life that respected the unhoused person MORE than the rich person. A life that required re-examining your life and priorities in favor of being God in this world.

Last week I asked us all to take a look at our wealth. How we acquired wealth, how our families accumulated wealth; how the companies that pay us acquired their wealth. Living into the example Saints such as Francis set is part of why I asked us all to do this difficult work.

I did my homework. And I’d like to share with you all what I discovered; some of which are things I’m not proud of from my family history. My grandparents made their living as developers of the community in Maryland that my Mom still lives in. My grandfather bought the land, not from the Piscataway people who originally inhabited the land, but from another white person in the years leading up to WWII. The Piscataway people had been driven off the land 200 years previously, once it became clear that the soil in Calvert County was perfect to grow tobacco.

The Piscataway were not paid for the land. They were driven off by violence and disease.

My family certainly did not pay them for the land that we still call home.

I don’t know how to make this wrong right. Or even just less wrong. So I did what I hope all of us would do: I asked.

On Friday afternoon I sent an email to the tribe, not the elders, that seems rude and presumptive, but to the general info email. And in that email I explained why I was writing, and asked what I could do. I offered to send money as I was able, and also, I said that this was more than white guilt, more than a white person offering to throw money at a problem to make it go away. I want to do my part, however small it will be, in healing a wrong. Certainly, I think it would be a good starting place to find out how much my Grandfather paid and give them that.

What I offered, and what they are under no obligation to say yes to, is to begin a process of forgiveness. Of acknowledging a harm, a wrong, and of the slow and painful process to make it right. At least on one very small level.

It’s vulnerable, and scary, and they have every right to say no to my efforts.

But, and this is important, this is the work that Christ calls us to do. I don’t want to do it. It’s vulnerable, and raw, and touches a deep part of my soul that I’m not proud of and I’m not comfortable with. There’s a voice that sneering at me and asking why? Saying that my attempt to make amends is but a drop in a deep bucket.

But it’s still a drop.

So I’m doing it anyway. And I’m standing in front of you saying I’m doing it.

And that I hope you all do too, whatever this healing looks like for you. Take a deep look at who you are, and how you came to be here. And honestly ask if there’s anything there that you just know isn’t right.

For me, it’s that my family made a fortune selling land that wasn’t there’s to sell. And that they never paid the rightful owners for. That’s wrong.

Before my grandparents, my family were farmers in Virginia and New Jersey.

While it isn’t documented, and they weren’t plantation owners, it is highly likely that my family owned slaves. That my family thought and acted as though they could own other human beings is a wrong that I will never be able to make right.

But until my last breath, I will try to heal some of that harm.

The lesson we have from the Gospel today, and from the life an example of St. Francis, is to never see ourselves as greater than anyone else. We are to see that all of creation is all an extension of God. We are not better than anyone else, nor are we better than anything else.

As I mentioned earlier, in a moment we are going to say the prayer of St. Francis. A wonderful tribute, but not words that Francis himself wrote. Instead, in closing today, I would like to read something Francis did write. This is the Canticle of Creation, believed to have been written towards the end of Francis’s life. When he knew the church thought of him as a rogue problem, rather than a beloved follower of Christ. When Francis was going blind, and still grateful for every moment, breath, and experience of creation:

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honour, and all blessing. To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no human is worthy to mention Your name.

Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day and through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour; and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful. Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather, through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste. Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom You light the night, and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give [God] thanks and serve [God] with great humility.

— St. Francis of Assisi

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