This past Sunday, July 4, along with weaving together threads of a “regular” worship service with first-Sunday Communion, heightened-Sunday Baptisms, and (oh yes) Independence Day, Francis of Assisi dropped by. Not the “Saint Francis trapped in the stone bird bath,” but Francis the young stonemason who heard read in church 800 years ago the same gospel account we did yesterday — of Jesus’ sending disciples out to proclaim peace, heal the infirm, taking nothing on the journey not needed.
Franciscan students differ on precisely which gospel lection Francis heard when he decided to give up the hermit’s garb of sandals, tunic and belt he wore while literally rebuilding churches. Luke 10 was the reading given for yesterday; Matthew 10, however, also includes mention of lepers, which were key to Francis’ –and Jesus’ — ministry. Whichever reading of Jesus’ sending Francis asked the priest about following worship that Sunday eight centuries ago, it offered a model beyond either ordained priesthood or isolated hermitage for him in its sending forth into the world; a model he adopted himself as followers began to come to him. From this beginning he took up the call to preach and practice the gospel of peace.
In my own meeting with Franciscans, it was in coming to work with those suffering with AIDS that I met the Francis who stepped “down from the bird-bath” into the world of human suffering and compassion. My poem “Mercy” (in Sacred exchange) tells something of that encounter. Beyond that, I’ve met Francis in the quiet of the “Enchanted Mountains” on Sabbatical at the Franciscan Institute; on asking a mentor how to “pastor peace” in a country bending easily into war; and in arguing whether snow-children really keep one truer in faith than blood and flesh. Francis surprises me wherever he shows up, and perhaps sometimes I surprise him. A sacred exchange, indeed.