St Francis of Assisi 2021

St Francis of Assisi–earliest known depiction
St Francis of Assisi – the earliest known depiction, from Subiaco, Italy

For a Benedictine, I seem to have written a great deal about St Francis. I don’t think I have anything to add to posts such as this, from 2011, or, this, about struggling with the divine will, from 2012, or my thoughts about sentimentalising St Francis here. But perhaps we could hold one more idea in mind today. St Francis has become the patron saint of the environment and ecology, and is often invoked as the go-to saint whenever climate change or kindred matters are discussed within the Church. But, as any Franciscan will tell you, there is more to Francis than concern for birds and bees and the salvation of planet earth.

The Fulfilment of our Hope

Today marks the end of the liturgical Season of Creation, but not the end of the liturgical year: it is not the fulfilment of our hope, only a stage on the journey. St Francis understood this better than most. The warm, fuzzy images we often have of him sometimes obscure the saint of steely determination, who looked beyond the present to eternity, whose hope was not for this world only. El Greco captured something of this when he painted St Francis entering upon the last years of his earthly life, his body marked with the stigmata, his gaze fixed upon the Cross. The youthful saint of the first image gives way to the bleaker, more profound image of the second. It is a journey we must all make. May St Francis aid us with his prayers.

St Francis by El Greco
St Francis by El Greco

Blog Problems

Our commercial hosting service’s transfer of our sites to new servers has caused us many problems which have taken time to sort out. Even now, there are matters I need to resolve. However, with regard to iBenedictines, I recommend that readers
(1) clear their browser cache and
(2) use the https://www.ibenedictines.org URL.

If you use https://ibenedictines.org (without the ‘www‘) or http:// (without the ‘s’ on http), a few browsers will continue to tell you that your connection is not private. You can override this by clicking on the ‘details’ or ‘more information’ links and proceeding to the site. So far, it is only in Safari that I have found the 301 redirect and the force https not working, and that’s because of the way I’ve set that particular browser to work!

The validity of the certificate has been checked and verified but if techy types notice anything else, please let me know as I installed the Let’s Encrypt certificate manually and there is always room for error on my part.

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The God in Whom I Do Not Believe

People often tell me why they don’t believe in God: he has not answered their prayer; he has allowed someone close to die; he does not do away with all the evil and suffering in the world; the Church is full of abuses. I have to agree that I don’t believe in such a pathetic God, either. I don’t believe in someone who is merely there to rubber-stamp whatever I want; who doesn’t take me seriously enough to allow me free will but wants me to be a puppet on a string; who only has time for those who are good. I don’t believe in a God who is capricious, small-minded and mean; whose existence can be ‘proved’; who is as finite as I am.

You see, the arguments against the existence of God that many people use are actually rooted in unthinking petulance. I asked God for something, but he didn’t give it (question: why should God give you what you ask?); God took away someone I love (question: what kind of love desires what is good for itself rather than what is good for the other?); I want there to be nothing difficult or cruel in the world (question: what kind of world is that?); I want the Church to be full of saints (question: isn’t the Church meant for sinners in the process of becoming saints?)

The God in whom I believe is a Person of infinite tenderness and love, of breathtaking beauty and intellect. Eternity will not allow me to plumb the depths of God, how much less this brief life on earth! But this I can assert with absolute trust and confidence. Whatever I believe about God is so much less than the truth of God. ‘As the heavens are high above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts.’ Ultimately, it is not a question of the God in whom you or I believe or don’t believe but of the God who is.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Facing Both Ways

1 January, Octave Day of Christmas and Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (the oldest Marian feast in the calendar), the day when we make (and break) our New Year resolutions, is, as its name proclaims, the doorway of the year, facing both ways like the old pagan god Janus* from which it takes its name. It wasn’t always the beginning of the year, of course: that used to be Lady Day, 25 March, feast of the Annunciation. But calendar reforms and changes in public perception (‘in the year of Our Lord’ and ‘in the year of grace’ being seen as rather quaint, if not unacceptably exclusive) mean that we now end one year and begin another with barely a nod in the direction of religion.

That facing both ways, however, is valid whether we are religious or not. We look back on the old year and assess its triumphs and failures and look forward to the new, assessing its potential. We are not altogether there, not altogether here. The religious might say we are at the interface of time and eternity.

Today’s feast is so rich in allusion, so deep in theology that we can forget that it too faces both ways: back into time, forward into eternity (which is outside time). The Word which was from the beginning took flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. That is what we celebrate throughout the Christmas season. We start our secular year with a reminder that God’s love for us is infinite, Incarnate Love, which wills that all should be saved. Just as the circumcision of Christ on the eighth day foreshadows the shedding of his blood on the cross, so the symbolism of the eighth day expresses perfection, salvation.

We face both ways, into the abyss of our nothingness and the abyss of God’s love, but with this assurance: ‘The eternal God is your dwelling-place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’ That must give us confidence as we begin 2012.

A happy and blessed New Year to you all.

* I originally wrote Januarius: my old Latin mistress would have boxed my ears for such a mistake and many thanks to John for pointing out the error.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail