Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘Francis and Clare’
We have two images on our printed liturgies today, two etchings by Arthur Boyd. One shows St Francis holding St Clare’s hair; the other shows St Clare offering marzipan to St Francis. What are these artworks all about? Francis and Clare gave up a great deal in the process of their conversions to the Gospel. Francis famously cast off his clothes and thus his right of inheritance (his father was a clothing merchant). Clare was a noblewoman. Her conversion to the poor Christ outraged her family and caused a scandal. Francis received her into a small community of brothers and sisters on the outskirts of Assisi. Tradition says it was he who cut off her hair, symbolising her renunciation of privilege and power. The first image, then, is about the cost of conversion and discipleship – the move to simplicity and a poverty that understands real need and common creatureliness. The second image is cute, playful. I haven’t come across any historical references to Clare eating or sharing marzipan. Its meaning may have something to do with the sweetness of the Gospel – the sweetness of simple empathy with others, the sweetness of simple labour with others, the sweetness of prayer, conversation, friendship, sharing the sweet fruits of the earth. In short, costly discipleship and sweet joy. Today we commemorate two medieval saints ahead of their time – radical eco-
Celebrating the Feast of Francis and Clare with our companion animals makes us more aware of the fact that relationship involves risk, and that the God who risked everything for us calls us into relationship anyway – with Christ and with our fellow creatures, the infinitely varied works of the Creator …
The stories of Francis and Clare are filled with startling episodes and details, overlaid with legend – visions and miracles. They were not the Romeo and Juliet of Assisi – they spent just a few days in each other’s company. Their relationship was of spiritual connection and understanding. The orders they founded have endured for more than 800 years. Their commitments to discernment of common need and to imitation of the non-
Clare was the first woman in the western tradition to write her own Rule for life in community. Her Rule was accepted by the papacy on her deathbed. It was by no means easy for her to maintain independence and to resist the patriarchs of Assisi and Rome.
It can be difficult for us to appreciate her passion for voluntary poverty; her insistence on individual and corporate poverty, and refusal of property ownership. We can begin to appreciate it, however, in terms of keeping close to Christ, close to the real needs of those exploited/marginalised by the money system, close to the wisdom of the world’s Indigenous cultures, close to the good creativity of the earth, of hands and hearts that work for justice and peace.
Clare and her sisters for the most part lived and worked within the grounds of San Damiano’s. They prayed for their city daily. Clare came to accept the title of Abbess but she was a working Abbess – in the garden, in the kitchen, alongside the sisters. People came to visit, seeking advice, wisdom and sanctuary.
Clare lived for many years after the death and canonisation of Francis. She drew cleverly and judiciously on his writings and life. She continued to practice what he sought to practice. Her example drew many others to a life of simple work, prayer and joy, including several other noblewomen …
Francis learned that the courage to kiss a leper is courage of a different order – different from the courage required for battle. He learned that the example of Christ is something to imitate – that salvation means participation in the Gospel: “Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me,” says Jesus the Ox, “for I am gentle and humble of heart.” “Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.” “If your brother or sister sins against you, forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.”
Through the eyes of Francis we see the image of Jesus the Ox; Jesus the Mother Hen; Jesus the Lamb. It was Francis who gave us the Nativity Set with the Holy Family and the animals in the stable.
He referred to himself as a “black mother hen” looking after his friars/chicks.
Late in his life Francis wrote an astounding song called “Canticle of the Creatures” – it is the first expression in the western tradition of government other than human-
On his deathbed Francis offered his friends a final prayer: “I have done what is mine. May Christ teach you what is yours to do.”
Let’s complete the homily together by praying for others and for each other according to the “Canticle of the Creatures” … Amen.