Friday, October 4, 2013

St. Francis Day: “What did you do once you knew?”

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

As we remember St. Francis today in Nebraska, Brother Wind is very much in evidence, from the winter storm winds in the northwest to the aftermath of last night’s tornadoes in the southeast and everywhere in between. Meteorologists tell us that we have had an unusual weather pattern for early October, and as I sit on my porch in south central Nebraska writing this, it feels more like early September than early October. I know this warmth will be short-lived, though, as those cold winds out of the northwest will get here soon. I also know that unusual weather patterns with more severe storms dumping heavy precipitation are what climate scientists have predicted as global temperatures warm, the Arctic ice melts, and the Earth changes in very significant ways. Yesterday our area got a record amount of rainfall for a day in October. The Platte River was already bank full with water from the September rains in Colorado, resulting in the countryside looked in many ways more like it does during a spring thaw than in a more typical October.

Skiers are excited about the early and plentiful snows in parts of the Rockies. Farmers always welcome moisture for the soil, but would prefer dry conditions as the harvest season progresses. Some football fans will welcome cooler temperatures in Lincoln tomorrow, while others will be unhappy if the wind makes tailgating difficult or a cold wind brings discomfort. From what we know of St. Francis, I suspect he would rejoice in the snow, the storms, the wind, the rain, and whatever else he experienced in God’s creation. We celebrate his compassion for animals, bringing pets and farm animals to churches for a blessing on this day, but of course his compassion extended much farther than the animal kingdom.

Most notably, Francis had compassion for poor people. Born into comfortable circumstances, he left all of that to live as poor people lived. Today we might say he stood in solidarity with the poor. His compassion extended to all living things: people, plants, water, the wind, the sun, moon, and stars. His compassion even extended to death itself, part of the great web and cycles of life.

His compassion which flowed out of his love for Christ was evident in his loving restoration of ruined churches and in his creation of the first crèche to make the story of the Nativity more accessible to people. He did not neglect worship, and his attention to the words of Christ in the Gospel guided his heart and his mind. But he also did not neglect action in the world.

Francis was never ordained as a priest, but served the Church as a deacon. Our understanding of deacons today is that our attention to the Gospel and our love of Christ result at least as much in service in the wider world as in service within the institution of the Church. As Francis understood, when the Gospel works long enough on someone’s heart and mind, the natural result is compassion that extends in an ever-widening circle.

The great work for Christians today is to extend that circle of compassion not only in wider and wider circles in our present world, and also to extend that circle to future generations. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Fifth Assessment Report , released at the end of September, is clear about the significant negative consequences of unmitigated global warming on today's children and those who come after them, and it is also clear that we can indeed mitigate the consequences if we care enough to make the necessary changes now. Compassion says that if we see a big problem for future generations and can do something ourselves right now to prevent suffering 20, 50, 100, or 200 years from now, we should do it.

Poet Drew Dellinger recites an excerpt from his poem Hieroglyphic Stairway that is a good place to begin prayerful reflection on this St. Francis Day:

If people fifty years from now asked, how would we answer the question "What did you do once you knew?"