Beyond the Birdbath: The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

October 2, 2020

By Sister Eileen Dooling

When considering the offer to write this blog, it dawned on me how little I knew about Saint Francis: a wild youth, disowning his father and his inheritance, conversing with a wolf and surrounded by birds. There had to be more than sentimental stories to have such a Franciscan legacy and a popularity among the people. And so began my homework!

St. Bonaventure described Francis as “searching for God and finding him in all the broken places of humanity.” For Francis, holiness required an active engagement with the poorest of persons and attention to all of creation. He desired to live in close proximity to those excluded from society, but no one—rich or poor, saint or sinner—was excluded from his care.

Francis is the saint of “universal fraternity,” the brother of all. He did not believe in hierarchy or any type of superiority. His brothers vowed obedience, not to Francis, but to the Gospel way of life. Francis saw Christ in everything and everyone. All people, all creatures and all creation deserved respect because all reflected the God who made them. Our modern tendency to see humans as the center of creation would not please Francis. His Canticle of the Creatures makes clear the importance of all of creation—humans too, but not exclusively: “I am who I am in the eyes of God, nothing more and nothing less.”

A Story about Francis: The Three Robbers

This story was new to me! While Francis was out begging for food for the community, due to low provisions, three robbers/murderers came to the door of the monastery and asked for food. Angelo, the guardian of the community, knew who they were and sent the three away to reflect on their sins. When Francis heard that Angelo had sent them away, he immediately confronted him: “It is you who have sinned!” And Angelo was sent out to find the robbers and bring them the food for which Francis had begged. Angelo found the robbers and ate with them; all prayed for forgiveness. And, you guessed it, the three robbers joined Francis and the Franciscan community and stayed for the rest of their lives.

Francis was demanding and unyielding when anyone was left out or ignored. It was just not acceptable to pick and choose who was worthy of his service and his resources.

A Poem: “The Sacraments”

I once spoke to my friend, an old squirrel, about the Sacraments –
he got so excited

and ran into a hollow in his tree and came
back holding some acorns, an owl feather,
and a ribbon he had found.

And I just smiled and said, “Yes, dear,
you understand:

everything imparts
His grace.”

— Daniel Ladinsky, Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and the West. Inspired by St. Francis

Francis’ spirit is not different from the spirit of Mercy. Don’t we know that everyone and everything imparts God’s grace? Don’t we understand, too, that all of life is sacred—the robbers and the squirrels, the flora and the fauna, and even all of us? Have we not also experienced the call to serve the homeless and the hungry, the excluded and the different? And don’t we also recognize that in simplicity is freedom and joy? Even our leadership/governance structures acknowledge the member as leader and respect for the individual as essential to the common good—not a far cry from Francis’ concept of leadership and community. The Mercy and Franciscan spirits: closely aligned, finding God very close, in the broken places of humanity…

Let’s celebrate this October 4 with our Franciscan sisters and brothers and all of creation, for Mercy rejoices in the spirit of Francis and in the legacy he passed on to a world in serious need of his witness and his wisdom.

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  1. Sister Carren Herring

    Thank you for this profound and enlightening story. Let us rejoice in our call and share it.

  2. Liz Dossa

    Sr. Eileen, I love the way you have made this so relevant to today. A reminder that we are not the exclusive center of creation. Thank you!

  3. Carolyn

    Such a great saint. So inspiring! Our world needs his intercession.
    Thank you, Sister Eileen, for writing this piece, and connecting the Mercy Sisters to the Franciscans.

    Carolyn McDonnell,
    Mercy Associate

  4. Cathleen Cahill, RSM

    New insights here, Eileen. Thank you.

  5. Fran McManus, RSM

    Thank you, Eileen, for the expansive view of Francis, the poem-prayer and the Mercy similarities. Another origin connection is the urban origin since the Francisan movement and urbanization were synchronous. I offer my urban poem prayer that was quoted in a chapter on the Trinity in the Franciscan spirituality text Build with Living Stones.

    Urban Canticle

    Now may our God be praised in glass, concrete and steel.
    Scaffolds like Jacob’s ladder stretch busily from land to sky;
    Father’s power, Spirit’s stirrings, Christ’s lordship revealed,

    visible in human designs that reach, recoil, shift and heal,
    transfigure urban dreamers as they ride, run, limp or fly;
    now may our God be praised in glass, concrete and steel.

    Fishers of men, women, children, vendors lure and reel
    them in with sales of comfort and joy, aroma of pizza pie.
    Father’s power, Spirit’s stirrings, Christ’s lordship revealed,

    In the steady beat of stop lights and concrete footfalls, feel
    the Sacred Heart pulsing. Babies cry. Street preachers testify.
    Now may our God be praised in glass, concrete and steel.

    Choirs sound; horns honk; teens laugh, rap dreams; bells peal;
    eagles and falcons brood and breed, their mere, skyscrapers high.
    Father’s power, Spirit’s stirrings, Christ’s lordship revealed.

    Parks, factories, industry and art stand, sacrament and seal
    on New Canaan, God’s handiwork working out, sanctified.
    Now may our God be praised in glass, concrete and steel:
    Father’s power, Spirit’s stirrings, Christ’s lordship revealed.

  6. Richard Mary Burke

    Eileen, what powerful integration of the past and present source of inspiration from St. Francis. He and Catherine must be celebrating their oneness of spirit!

  7. Michelle Gorman

    Thank you so much, Eileen, for connecting Mercy to Francis! And I love the title- Beyond the Birdbath:-)

  8. Ann McGovern

    Thanks, Eileen. I had not heard before this read Francis’ “I am who I am in the eyes of God, nothing more.” As I gaze out at a sunrise I’m soaking in that reality.

  9. Fran Repka

    Thank you, Eileen, for this meaningful reflection on Francis and Mercy!

  10. Mary Daly RSM

    Great, great, great! Thanks, Eileen.

  11. Patricia Cook, RSM

    Thanks, dear Eileen, for this wonderful blog……you are indeed, the best of bloggers that I know! How touched I was by your review of the familiar and your challenge of the new about Brother Francis.

    Grateful am I that our dear pope chose to borrow his name and copy his spirit for the world to see.

    Love/peace, Patty

  12. patricia mulderick

    Oh, Eileen! You certainly inspired me for Francis’ Feast!… well, and beyond…as we continue to seek and find God in all the broken places of our world right now…humanity and all of creation. Thank you! I imagine you have “imparted grace” to many with this reflection!

  13. Linda Miller

    Thank you so much for writing this inspiring blog!