For several weeks this fall, I have reflected on the life and legacy of St. Francis of Assisi. I have introduced to Francis as a teenager through the prayer, “Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace” which has been attributed to him. At various times, I have turned to this 12th century saint because I believe that there is so much wisdom in his life for the challenges of our day—particularly his concern for the environment, the poor, the stranger and even potential enemies. His life also demonstrates that the grace of God inspires believers to serve in ways that sometimes exceed what might seem possible.
We remember Francis as a saint and the founder of a religious order dedicated to voluntary poverty in service to the needs of the poor, but there is very little in his young life that would have suggested that as his legacy. He was born to a wealthy merchant family in Assisi, Italy. As a young man, he lived a high-spirited life, enjoying the profits of his father’s silk business. He was handsome and well-spoken, loved fancy clothes and spending money.
In search of adventure, he joined a military expedition when he was twenty years old, but he was taken captive. Held prisoner for a year, he suffered ill-health. During that time, he questioned the purpose of his life and his priorities. He joined another military expedition, but he no longer sought the adventures of his youth. Soon he turned his back on all worldly interests and began to dedicate his life to the poor, joining a poor people’s pilgrimage to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Later, he had the experience that would shape the rest of his life.
While praying in a small chapel, he had a mystical vision of Jesus and a voice that instructed him, “Francis, go and repair my house which is falling into ruins.” Francis took the words of that vision literally and sought to rebuild the chapel of San Damiano, undertaking to raise money by begging—and even stealing from his father’s silk business. In the process, he contributed to rebuilding the universal church with new practices of spirituality, a focus on the needs of the poor, creation care, and even seeking peace with Muslims during the Crusades.
Today, we see poverty and inequality, racism, discrimination based on gender or sexual identity, tribalism and violence. We see people displaced from their homes by war and natural disaster. We know that climate change will continue to disrupt the lives of people around the world, even as we are moving through the disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic. All of these challenges can feel overwhelming, but all of us can do something by contributing to communities that seek to address these concerns. Following Francis’ example, I believe that we are called to rebuild the church.
Francis focused on physical repair to one building—and we have made substantial investments in our church during the last year. We installed cameras for broadcast and upgraded our sanctuary sound system. We painted the social hall and the chapel. The floor in the chapel is being replaced after extensive water damage. We are re-organizing other rooms upstairs for our archives and Sunday school. But our work of rebuilding also includes interpersonal relationships, connections that were strained by physical distance. I’m making an effort to call more members of the church. If you’d like to chat, please let me know. I also encourage you to reach out to church friends you haven’t seen recently. Finally, we continue to serve our neighbors in need, locally and around the world—through our Outreach ministries. My prayer is that we will deepen our faith lives in the weeks ahead as we continue the work of rebuilding the church and see that the ministry of Central Church is contributing in a small way to create the world we would like to see for all people.
Grace & Peace,