Friday, 6 October 2017
A Short Sermon for the Feast of St. Francis
My sisters and brothers in Christ, these pass few days we have heard about many tragedies that have occurred in the world and with in our own city: acts that are so senseless that our communities are often left in suspicion of each other. It is during these times, we need to look at the heroes of our faith in order to learn how to handle such devastation. And today we commemorate and learn from such a hero in St Francis of Assisi.
A man whose remarkable life is celebrated by how he embraced poverty to become closer with God in Jesus; he was renowned for his preaching and knowledge of holy scriptures; and, of course, his love for creation and animals—we are reminded of the latter as our furry friends are blessed today. But, dare I say, S. Francis’s greatest gift is often overlooked, his ability to broker God’s peace during an extraordinary war.
St. Francis’ world was filled with uncertainty and violence. He was a former war veteran in his youth and he was a prisoner of that war. He survived his capture because his dad was able to pay a rich ransom. In the bigger picture, the Roman Catholic Church was in a holy war with the Muslims. Thus, it was these events that shaped S. Francis’s desire for God’s peace; and he preached against the war.
So Francis’ first goal was to plead with Church authorities to disengage from attacking the Muslims. Unfortunately, he failed to persuade the Church and was even mocked for his plea. So St. Francis and Br. Illumanto decided to go into enemy territory to try to build a relationship and preach the gospel to the sultan. The risks of capture and even death were real, but St. Francis and Br. Illuminato were inspired to proclaim the gospel of Christ that they continued to seek an audience with the Sultan. They were captured and delivered into the hands of the Sultan himself.
We do not know what words were exchanged between the Sultan, al-Kamil and S. Francis. What we do know is that Francis was allowed to preach to the Sultan and that the two had peacefully exchanged religious beliefs. According to St. Bonventure, the two were so overcome with zeal for the commonalities of their understanding of God, that the sultan insisted that Francis stay with him. In fact, Al-Kamil was so impressed with St. Francis that the sultan wanted to give Francis many riches. But Francis in poverty refused these riches, except for an ivory horn which was used for calling the Muslim faithful to prayer.
St. Francis’ courage to live the gospel seemed to have laid the foundation that allowed the Christians and Muslims to broker peace for a number of years. It changed St. Francis’s life forever. We see that change when the Papal army was deployed to invade Egypt again breaking the peace treaty. So distraught by this action, St. Francis went on a forty day fast and he wrote a prayer that resembled the Muslim meditation on the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God. At the bottom of the page was a picture that S. Francis drew. He drew the head of al-Kamil: it was Francis’s pray petitioning God to protect the Sultan, his people and to bring peace.
St. Francis in every way embraced the peaceful servitude that we heard in John’s gospel and St. Francis was blessed to see God’s design in all of creation, even to those who we might consider our enemies. The life of this great saint, therefore, is relevant example of gospel living for us today, especially, in a world that desperately needs a peaceful hero who is inspired by the peace and love of God in Jesus Christ. AMEN!
By The Rev. Billy Isenor