For all of us associated with St. Peter’s, this is one of the holiest and important weeks of the year since we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on Friday, October 4. I would like to have sufficient room in this bulletin and the time to write extensively about the life of Francis, but a summary with highlights will have to suffice.
Francis was born in 1182 in Assisi, Italy. He received his primary education at the Church of San Giorgio, probably under the guidance of one of the priests. His father was a cloth merchant and often travelled to France to purchase expensive materials which were used to fashion the finest garments for the women of Assisi. It was his father’s love for France that led to this child being named Francis. In his youth Francis tried to learn the merchant’s trade as he worked in the shop, but he knew he was called to something else. He loved to spend time with his friends, to sing and to dance, to compose poems and to absorb the beautiful colors of the landscape throughout the valleys surrounding Assisi.
He thought he wanted to become a knight, so he joined the military campaign of Walter of Brienne. He had travelled no further than Spoleto when he was laid low by illness. During his recovery, Francis had a dream that made him wonder if he were meant for a military career. He heard someone ask him, “Is it better to serve the lord or the servant?” “The lord,” he replied. “Then why do you serve the servant?” The questions haunted the young man and initiated an intense, restless search that was characterized by periods of solitude, pilgrimage and experimentation.
Later, while he was kneeling before a crucifix in the deteriorating chapel dedicated to St. Damian, he heard a voice say, “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.” He immediately began going from house to house begging for the materials he would need to rebuild this chapel—and several others as well. As he did so, his friends came out to see what he was doing, and they saw that he seemed happier than ever before. At one point he was attending Mass at the Portiuncula chapel and heard St. Matthew’s Missionary Discourse proclaimed. “This is what I want,” Francis declared. “This is what I desire with my whole heart!” As a result, Francis burst upon the world as a poor, itinerant evangelizer proclaiming a simple message of peace and salvation. He did so in such simplicity and with such energy that he was bound to attract followers, several of whom were his friends in his party days.
By 1209 there were twelve brothers. They set off for Rome to receive papal approval for their “form of life.” We do not know what the brothers showed Pope Innocent III, but the sincerity of Francis and his brothers inspired the pope to give them oral approval so that they could live under the protection of the Church without fear of being accused of heresy. So was born the beginning of the Order of Penitents, now known as the Franciscan Order.
Finally, with his brothers gathered around him, Francis died at Our Lady of the Portiuncula, the very place where he had first heard the gospel call. It was the evening of October 3, 1226. His body was slowly carried to the city for burial in the Church of San Giorgio (It was later moved to the magnificent basilica built in his honor). Within two years, his friend Cardinal Hugolino, now Pope Gregory IX, canonized him and, in doing so, sang the praises of God whose marvelous deeds are renewed in every age.
Please join us for the following special celebrations in the days to come:
Thursday, October 3: At 12:10 Fr. Robert Karris, O.F.M., a renowned Scripture scholar and historian of Franciscan history, will give a presentation in the St. Clare Auditorium on the lower level of the church. His talk will deal with the Admonitions of St. Francis to the early friars and to Christians of all kinds. Here is a preview of his presentation: St. Francis of Assisi’s 28 Admonitions are deeply traditional, but also innovative. They belong to the genre of Conduct Literature and are meant to socialize Franciscans and other Catholic Christians in faithful action. For example, Admonition 17 says: “Blessed is that servant who does not exalt himself more over the good that the Lord says or does through him than what the Lord says and does among another person.” Come if you can to be inspired by Fr. Bob’s presentation as a way to prepare for the feast of Francis.
Thursday, October 3: At 7:00 P.M. on Thursday evening we invite you to join us for the traditional Transitus Service, which is always celebrated on the evening before the Feast of Francis. This service recounts the passing of Francis from this life to eternal life. Francis asked his brothers to gather around him and pray as he gave himself back to God. We will gather in the lobby of church and then process inside to hear Brother Elias’ reflection on the life of Francis in his letter to all the friars announcing Francis’ death. We end the service in an attitude of prayer. This simple service is always a moving experience and a reminder of our own future passing from death to life.
Friday, October 4: The Solemn Mass begins at 11:40 A.M. and will continue through the 12:15 Mass time. This is truly a time for all the friars and for the many people who come to St. Peter’s either on weekends or on weekdays for Mass, confessions, for our renewal programs downstairs in the auditorium, to visit our Gift Shop, or to visit with a priest on the mezzanine. In a special way we welcome the Secular Franciscans to join us as part of the Franciscan family. The choir will sing to bring added solemnity to this celebration. We invite you not only to the Mass but also to the reception following in the auditorium.
At 5:40 P.M. or shortly after the conclusion of the 5:00 Mass, we will have Solemn Vespers for the Feast of Francis in the church. If you have never come to these Vespers before, we hope you will be able to attend this year. Vespers is the Evening Prayer of the Church, prayed each evening by priests, religious and many laity (and recited each Monday and Wednesday in church at St. Peter’s), but on this feast day everything will be sung, alternating between choir and congregation. In case you have to be concerned about time to get to your train, the service should last about a half hour or so.
Next Sunday, October 6: The Blessing of Animals at 2:00 P.M. in front of church (in the lobby in case of rain): Saint Francis had a great love of all God’s creation since he saw God’s beauty and goodness reflected everywhere. He could walk in the valleys and fields around Assisi and go into ecstasy at what he saw. He loved to spend days and weeks at a time in the quiet of a cave to meditate on how God’s love was manifest in nature. He had a special love of animals (confer the story of the wolf of Gubbio as one example). And he even composed a beautiful poem entitled The Canticle of the Creatures which captures this spirit:
Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing,
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no one 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 splendor,
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 fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.
We invite you to bring your pet(s) Sunday afternoon to be blessed and to allow us all to praise and thank our God for them and for all of creation. We welcome all animals—dogs, cats, snakes, gerbils, scorpions, fish, etc. In past settings I even blessed goats, sheep, pigs, and horses. The service will not take long, so don’t think your pet will get too distressed. The sounds of their voices will ring out God’s goodness—even shrills and howls.
May the Feast of Francis and all the festivities of this week be spiritually enriching for all our many friends at St. Peter’s!
TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“Woe to the complacent!” shouts the prophet to Amos in the First Reading. Indifference to the needs and plight of those around us challenges the prophet Amos and Jesus in today’s readings.
In three scenes, Luke tells the parable in the Gospel. In the first, a contrast is drawn between the sumptuous lifestyle of the rich man (who remains unnamed) and the poor man (named Lazarus) covered with sores and lying at the entrance to the rich man’s estate. There Lazarus dies, forgotten, with no mention of burial. The rich man also dies and is buried.
The next scene takes place in the afterlife, where the roles are reversed and Lazarus is with Abraham, while the rich man is in torment. In the final scene, the rich man begs that his brothers be warned about their fate for overlooking the poor. Like the rich man and his brothers, we have the teachings of Scripture, but we also have the example from this parable and more importantly that of Christ, to remind us of our responsibility to care for the needs of others.
Christians can never be indifferent to the needs of and injustices done to others. Pope Paul VI said in Populorum progressio, 23, “It is well known how strong were the words used by the Fathers of the Church to describe the proper attitude of persons who possess anything towards persons in need. To quote Saint Ambrose: ‘You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have abrogated to yourself.’”
Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis points to the story of the rich man and Lazarus, noting the option for the poor that Christian tradition bears witness. The pope states, “Love of preference for the poor, and the decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry and the needy. It is impossible not to take account of the existence of these realities. To ignore them would mean becoming like the ‘rich man’ who pretended not to know the beggar Lazarus lying at his gate”(#42).
In the Gospel, the rich man knew the Commandments and the teachings of the prophets but had a heartened heart regarding the starving man at his door. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the Christian needs to constantly be attentive to the formation of conscience. “The education of conscience is a lifelong task. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults” (#1784).
For Your Reflection: How does our parish help its members realize that they are to be united with the poor? What does today’s Gospel give as the path to lay hold to eternal life? When have you felt that your heart was hardened against a person in need?
ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
One of the marvelous gifts we have in the Catholic Church is the fact that we always have the presence of the Lord in our churches due to the reservation of the Body of Christ reserved in the tabernacle. But that presence is even more manifest when the Consecrated Host is placed in the monstrance and then publicly displayed for the veneration of the faithful in what we call the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Here at St. Peter’s we have the opportunity to visit Our Lord in this special way every Monday-Friday for the three hours between 1:45 and 4:45 in the afternoon. I hope you try to take advantage of this devotion at least once or twice a week. You need not stay for a longer period of time; even a short visit allows you to focus, to thank the Lord for blessings received, to acknowledge that you owe everything to His goodness and love, and to praise Him for all he has done and continues to do for you. It also gives you a bit of quiet time to just be in His presence and to give Him a chance to speak with you as He sees fit.
A CHUCKLE FOR YOUR PLEASURE
One night, my husband, Lee, a retired Army colonel, was watching a program on TV about paratroopers. As a D-Day jumper began to comment, my husband exclaimed, “That’s Jack Norton! I served in both Korea and Vietnam with him.”
After a few minutes of silence, Lee quietly remarked, “You know you’re getting old when your friends start showing up on the History Channel!”