Thursday, October 04, 2012

Another way to observe the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi

Rev. James Isaacs
At this time each year, and sometimes other times as well, I find myself reflecting upon the way that St. Francis of Assisi’s lived faithfully as I try to learn how to live more faithfully myself. In past years, I found myself thinking about Francis’s intentional material poverty; his ability to enjoy and recognize God’s presence in the midst of natural beauty; and his life as a peacemaker. This year, my mind keeps focusing on his ministry to people afflicted with leprosy. He cared for them regularly, cleaning their wounds and tending to their needs.

People in his time knew that it was safer for one’s own health to stay away from those living with leprosy. When society teaches us to stay away from another group of people, it often goes even further to set up structures to keep that group of people away from everyone else. This is what happened to the lepers; they were banished. Francis had to actively go out of his way to minister to them across the boundaries society had constructed. This required moving through any sense of fear he might have felt, sacrificing his own personal safety and security, into a place of vulnerability, faith and new relationships.

If I had been a contemporary of Francis, I think I would have felt drawn to seek him out. And if I had encountered him, I don’t think he would have refused to spend time with me because he was too important or too busy. Yet, to spend time with him, I would have had to also be with those suffering from leprosy. I would also have needed to make that journey beyond what was comfortable and safe for me. Only amongst the outcasts would I have even been able to find him.

In some ways, this may be what it is like with Christ. If we believe what is in the 25th chapter in the Gospel according to Matthew, we know Francis encountered Christ when he entered into a humble relationship with society’s outcasts. I hear so many Christians wanting a deeper relationship with Christ, and I think the example set by Francis can lead us to a way in which we can encounter the presence of Christ.

This feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, my meditations upon his life and ministry keep bringing me back to his companionship with people society told him to actively avoid. As I endeavor to live more fully into the love of God, the example of Francis invites me now to venture past my own comfortableness to encounter Christ by serving those who are vulnerable.

Perhaps this insight can help us to live more faithfully by seeking to humbly encounter prisoners; those who are sick or dying; people who live without certainty about where they will sleep or what they will eat; or those struggling with mental illness. We have these and other ‘lepers’ amongst us today, and in its own ways, our modern society has established structures to isolate them from the rest of the community. We must go to them. St. Francis’s spiritual wisdom teaches us that when we do, we will predictably encounter Christ.

James Isaacs is the Assistant Rector at St. James, Potomac and a Congregational Consultant specializing in conflict and planning for change. Share your thoughts, comments, and questions on Facebook.