"St. Francis and Sacred Space"
October 4, 2023, 6:00 AM

The oldest known painting of St. Francis (c.1229 AD)

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another,
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language,
and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands,
and their message to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19:1-4


The church commemorates the Feast of St. Francis on October 4th this year. Church services focus on the Blessing of the Animals, which lifts up everyone and everything in creation. Frequently, the Canticle of the Sun is sung. Happiness is the theme of the day as God rejoices in all of creation. St. Francis seems to be a person who lived an idyllic life.

The life of St. Francis tells another story. St. Francis was not an educated person. He went to school for just a few years, and acquired enough education to work as a cloth merchant. Beyond that, St. Francis scorned education. Book learning wreaked of wealth – only rich people had books at the time – and thus smacked of arrogance. He refused to become a priest, and thought of creation as his only tutor. St. Francis lived his entire life in poverty refusing to embrace the love of money.

As far as his relationship to the church, St. Francis loved the church and would never criticize a priest. For him, priests were the only ones empowered to celebrate the Eucharist and join us to Christ.

Contrary to the strict rules of his religious order, St. Francis was less rigid. He was known to make exceptions on the spot. The extroverted St. Francis was reported to have had an extreme “natural sweetness” and “courteousness.” His playfulness morphed into making it a duty for his followers to be cheerful.

The religious order founded by St. Francis began with 12 followers, proliferated rapidly, and quickly expanded to over 5,000 friars. However, overwhelmed by the work in running the order, he relinquished his leadership position and turned the order over to another brother.

St. Francis endured multiple illnesses during the last six years of his life. He contracted trachoma (infection) of the eyes while returning from Egypt. An intervention included searing his face with a hot iron to stop the discharge. When the intervention failed, it was decided to pierce his eardrums, which also had no effect.

The unconventional life of St. Francis was a result of encountering “sacred spaces” with God. These “sacred spaces” were multiple. He lost his possessions and family, embraced a leper, experienced his religious order escape him, endured excruciating illness, and eventually encountered the pain in his early death.

All of us experience “sacred spaces” throughout our lives. Time is suspended within these “sacred spaces.” This may occur when some person we know intimately dies suddenly, we lose a job unexpectedly and have no income, we are uprooted from home, we lose our possessions, or we are abruptly diagnosed with a severe disease.

In these moments, time becomes suspended. We become disorientated. We do not know where to turn. It is in these “sacred spaces” that we have an opportunity to encounter God directly. God announces to us that the life we have been living is an illusion. Our illusion is that somehow, in some way, we can prevent ourselves from entering these “sacred spaces” where we must peer directly into the face God.

Nothing, and I repeat, nothing can keep us from the losses we experience in this life. There is no permanence in this life except in the love of God. “Sacred spaces” are God’s gift to us. They provide a time and place to experience God breaking through into our life, and opening us up to seeing God’s world in a new way.

I pray that we all look for “sacred spaces” as we experience life-changing events. These are “life-changing” because God is working to change our perspective on life itself.

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John