Fix My Church – Reflection 7 OCT 2017
This past Thursday, the Church celebrated the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi. More than the patron saint of garden statuary, Saint Francis calls us still to the radical transformation of the Gospel. Now, some 700 years since God called to Francis in the dilapidated chapel of San Damiano and commanded him to repair the Church, the Church still needs the correction of Saint Francis. Now as in Francis’ time, the Church is wracked with scandal and avarice, looking more to worldly power and wealth than the radical call of the Kingdom, looking more to exclude than to love, characterized by fear as much as faith.
Ian Morgan Cron provides a fantastic look at the way Saint Francis can speak into the world of the Church today in his book Chasing Francis. He challenges us to consider whether we are spiritual pilgrims or spiritual tourists, do we come to worship and prayer to be transformed or to simply observe. He challenges us to prayerfully enter into the grand narrative of God’s story, the Bible, rather than standing on the outside of the Bible arguing about rules and doctrines. Francis reportedly used three teachings of Christ to form the initial rule by which he and his companions would live, the command to the rich young man to sell everything and give to the poor, the command for the apostles to take nothing with them on their journey, and the command to take up the cross daily.
By living without social status or property, Francis and his companions were free to love anyone deeply whether that love was returned or not. Their love and freedom served as a corrective and challenge to those living in jealousy, hate, and fear. It is in this freedom to love that Francis found love as he stopped on his journey and overcoming his own fear and repulsion, offered the kiss of peace to a leper. In seeing this leper not as a disease, a curse, or something to be fixed, but instead as a person to love, Francis and his ministry were transformed.
This radical, transforming love of Francis was powered by prayer. One of his biographers even described him as “a man become prayer.” From the simple to the profound, for Francis every moment was an encounter with God, a lived prayer.
As we consider the world and the Church today, reflecting on the scandals, the hurts, the fears, the divisions, the way in which those who call themselves Christian can post a hate filled political diatribe on Facebook immediately after posting an inspirational Bible verse about love, in a political season where it seems more fashionable on both sides to brutally attack a person than discuss ways of solving difficult problems, what might it be like to approach worship and Scripture as pilgrims seeking transformation rather than tourists seeking a quick glimpse of the highlights? What might it be like for prayer to so permeate our lives that every moment is lived as an encounter with the God who is with us? What might it be like to love with complete freedom, to see the person behind the label, to love with God’s love?
I would think it impossible except that Francis of Assisi lived and prayed and loved in this way.