Tag Archives: St. Francis

Walled Garden

by Howard Hain
francis-and-clare-from-the-movie-brother-sun-sister-moon-franco-zeffirelli

Saint Francis and Saint Clare from the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”, (Franco Zeffirelli) (1972)


A garden enclosed, my sister, my bride,
a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed!

—Song of Songs 4:12


 

From memory it is not easy to recall. I do have a clear image, but if it is accurate that remains to be seen. Here we go.

It was downhill. A sloping path. As I approached the stone church, a few people wandered around out front. There was somewhat of a courtyard, well not a courtyard, more like a little wall hugging into existence a welcoming space. This wall was about bench height, made also of stone, and extended outward from the building. It created what I would normally call an out-front patio space, but in Italian terms, perhaps it would be called a terrazza, or maybe even be considered a piazza, or perhaps most accurately, a piazzetta. Then again, maybe it is just a patio to Italians too.

Well, sitting on this low wall was a friar. And running around the open area was a small brown dog with a shaggy little beige beard.

I entered the church. It was small, almost cave like. A curved ceiling. Dark. Old. There was the cross, a crucifix. Not the actual one that spoke to Saint Francis—no, that one was moved up into the Basilica of Saint Clare located in the central part of the still small but no-longer medieval town of Assisi.

The reproduction spoke to me.

I’m an early companion of Francis.


 

I remained in the chapel for a while. I’m not sure if I was praying or not. I’m pretty sure I got on my knees. But from that day’s perspective, prayer was not known to me. So from that perspective, I wasn’t praying. But from today’s perspective, I most certainly was. For I was there. I was in Italy, in Assisi, in the Church of San Damiano. I was there intentionally. I was lost but I was found. I was looking, and I was obeying. Obeying what I didn’t know. I had no idea why, but I wanted to be there. And I felt something. It was heavy, literally. I remember feeling bent over. I remember thinking about all the prayer that must have taken place in that small space over the past thousand years. I remember thinking that all that collective belief must have an effect. It did. It does. It will. I was certain that I felt it. It bowed me down. It bent me over. And I remember liking it.

Faith is common.

I was a pilgrim and didn’t know it.


 

I don’t remember much about the convent itself. I do remember walking from room to room, the communal rooms where Saint Clare and her companions, her biological mother and two sisters among them, ate and prayed and cared for their sick. I remember the small warm inner garden, with it’s old well. And the spot marked as the place where Clare liked best to sit. I’ve always loved internal courtyards. The thought of being outdoors and yet enclosed. Architecturally, it best represents the beauty of true solitude. Open. Yet safe. Free. Yet sheltered. Alone. Yet surrounded by those who believe the same.

In that sense, solitude—when it’s truly interior, truly spiritual—is like love: you can never get enough of it, and once you have it, once you truly live within it, you’re never again alone.

Solitude is love. And love is never solitary.


 

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.

—Isaiah 7:14


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

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Saint Francis for 4-year-olds (and you and me)

by Howard Hain

 

Saint Francis Coloring Book Page.jpg

“Saint Francis of Assisi”, coloring book page, colored by a “4-year-old”

 

.(My wife teaches 4-year-olds in a Catholic elementary school. The school’s patron saint is Saint Francis. They call this week “Saint Francis Week” and hold various events throughout the week to celebrate the feast of this great saint (Oct. 4th). My wife and her co-teacher were looking for a short, simple biography that would be appropriate for their 4-year-old students. They didn’t find anything that seemed to be the right fit. So here’s what I jotted down for their pre-K-4 class. The kids really seemed to enjoy it. Maybe you will too. Let us “become like little children”.)

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Saint Francis, a Knight for God

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There once was a young man. He lived in a land called Italy. He lived a very long time ago. He lived over 800 hundred years ago!

He lived with his family in a small city named Assisi.

The young man was quite silly. He loved to dream and he loved to sing and he loved to dance. He loved to play with his friends all day long.

The young man’s name was Francis.

His father wanted Francis to be more serious. His father wanted Francis to be just like him. He wanted him to sell expensive fabric to people who were very rich. Fabric is what you use to make pretty things like curtains, tablecloths, and clothes.

Francis’ father wanted him to work in the family shop. But Francis was not very interested in that kind of work. Francis wanted to be a great knight!

And one day Francis went off to do just that.

Francis went off to become a knight. He began to travel to another city where he would fight with a sword and a shield. Francis thought that he would become a great hero.

But on his way Francis got very sick. He had to return to his home. His mother took care of him. And while Francis was getting better he began to dream of different adventures.

He began to spend a lot of time walking around the woods and looking at the flowers and at the trees. He began to watch closely all the animals, especially the birds that flew high up into the sky. Francis began to think a lot about God!

Francis began to dream about heaven. He began to wonder about love. He saw that there was another kind of knight!

Francis decided that he would be a knight for God.

Francis wanted Jesus to be his king and for Mary to be his queen.

Francis no longer wanted to use a sword or a shield. No, Francis wanted to teach all the world how to love. Francis wanted to sing and dance and show everyone how be more like Jesus.

He began to live very simply. He had very few things. His only clothing was an old brown robe. He lived almost like a little animal in the forest. Francis was very free. Francis was filled with joy. He was very happy.

And soon many other young men came to join him. They too wanted to be knights for God. They all lived together. They called each other brother. They shared all they had. They were kind to each other. They loved God together.

And one day, even a young lady wanted to join. She brought other ladies and they started a home of their own. They called each other sister. That young lady’s name was Clare.

A new type of family was beginning to grow. A family who lives very much like Jesus. We call them Franciscans.

We now call that young man, Saint Francis. We now call that young lady, Saint Clare.

Saint Francis and Saint Clare are now in heaven with Jesus and Mary and all the holy angels and saints. They live in perfect peace with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

They see us right now. They pray for us too.

Hey, who knows, maybe one day a few of you boys and girls may become knights and ladies of God, like our patron saints, Saint Francis and Saint Clare!


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Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain   http://www.twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.

St. Anthony of Padua

On Google you find a surprising range of pictures of St. Anthony. Some have him  blissfully holding the Christ Child in his arms, which is how someone saw him one day towards the end of his life– holding the Child Jesus. At times he’s pictured holding a book in his hand. Some pictures and statues portray him holding the Child and the book together and giving a loaf of bread to  a poor man.

The pictures and statues say a lot about him.

Anthony was born in Portugal in 1195 and died near Padua, Italy in 1291, acclaimed for his preaching and virtues.  Canonized shortly after his death, he’s invoked as a miracle-worker, especially good at finding something lost. But Anthony’s more than a miracle-worker.

His world was the complex, changing world of the 13th century when Europe’s economy was expanding; military crusades against the Muslim powers were in full swing in Spain, Sicily and the Holy Land, and new religious movements like the Franciscans were bringing reform and new vigor to the western church.

Anthony entered the Augustinian community in his birthplace, Lisbon, and studied at the renowned theological center of Coimbra as a young man. Just decades before, Portugal had been freed from the control of the Moors, but then, unfortunately, the victors started fighting among themselves for power and spoils from the crusades.

Anthony rejected the violence and avarice he saw in feuding leaders of church and state; he was a crusader of another kind.  When the bodies of some Franciscan missionaries martyred in Morocco in 1219 while preaching the gospel were brought back to Portugal, Anthony decided to join the new community.  He became a Franciscan and went to Morocco, hoping to preach the faith to the Muslims there, but illness forced him out and he went to Sicily, then to Italy, where he became a Franciscan missionary and teacher.

Only a few years before, in 1206 in Assisi, young Francis Bernadone stripped himself of his trendy, stylish clothes and put on the dress of a poor man, to follow the poor Man of Nazareth, Jesus Christ. Thousands followed him and the movement he began quickly spread through the Christian world. Like others, Anthony was attracted to this movement, eager to bring the gospel “to the ends of the earth.”

The Franciscan movement began with a dedication to absolute poverty and a simple life, but as church leaders requested them to preach the gospel throughout the world its members needed books, education, training and places of formation. Anthony emerged as a model Franciscan preacher and teacher.

Through northern Italy, then through France, Anthony’s vivid, down-to-earth preaching stirred people’s hearts and minds and showed other preachers how to preach.  At the time, the Franciscan movement was not the only movement attracting the people of Europe. Through northern Italy and especially in France, Albigensian teachers were preaching a message of simplicity and release from the burdens of life to believers dissatisfied with the church. They denied that Jesus was divine, they questioned the gospels and painted the world as an evil place.

“Wise as a serpent and simple as a dove” Anthony disputed their message in his preaching. Gifted with an extraordinary memory for the scriptures and an ability to illustrate his talks with homey examples simple people understood, he spoke “with a well-trained tongue.” Thousands came to hear him. The world was not  evil, Anthony taught, Jesus, the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us.

Artists capture Anthony’s spirit in their portraits of him. As a preacher and teacher, he carries of book, most likely a psalter holding the Jewish psalms. St. Augustine, whom Anthony studied as a youth, always carried this one book of the bible with him, as a summary of the scriptures.

Some say this book is also clue to Anthony’s gift for finding lost things. He probably kept his notes for teaching and preaching in it. If he lost it–some say one of his students stole it– he lost something valuable to him. He found it, so he knows what it means when someone loses something too. “Good St. Anthony, come around, something’s lost and can’t be found.”

The Christ Child Anthony holds in his arms was more than a momentary vision he had.  Anthony was deeply attracted, as St. Francis was, to the mystery of the Incarnation. The Word became flesh. God became a little child, who grew in wisdom and age and grace in the simple world of Nazareth. He died on a cross, accepting it as his Father’s will. Then, he rose from the dead.

Human life and the world itself has been blessed by this mystery. Because of it,  life can never be small or inconsequential. Even suffering and death have been changed. “The goodness and kindness of God has appeared.” We hold it in our hands.

I suppose this is why a picture of St. Anthony is down in our laundry where Brother Angelo and others wash sheets and towels and clothes. He speaks to this world.

Caring for Creation

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St. Francis is one of those super saints we have to keep in mind, even after his feast day. I mentioned in a previous blog the statue of Francis facing St. John Lateran and Pope Innocent’s dream of a young man who, like Francis, held up the church’s walls ready to fall. The statue is a picture of Francis renewing the church.

In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis seems to paint a verbal picture of Francis, holding his arms out to the created world, caring for our endangered planet:

“I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.

“Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”.

“His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour.

“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

I like the pope’s words: “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”