Canticle of the Sun
Saint Matthew 11:25-30
Born as Giovanni Bernadone, the man soon to be known as Francesco, was the son of a prosperous cloth merchant. He lived a life of pleasure and work in his father’s trade. As a knight, he fought in the regional wars of Perugia and Assisi, and after illness and imprisonment returned home. On St. Matthias’ Day (24 February 1209) at mass in the chapel at Portiuncula he heard these words from the Gospel for the day, words which would change his life:
As you go, make this proclamation: 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you.
Tradition has it that as Francis left mass that day, he took off his shoes and cloak, and bound his smock with a piece of rope, and the Franciscan habit was born. Slowly other men joined his order, and eventually, women as well, under the direction of St. Clare. The Franciscan Order received it’s papal mandate in 1210 under Innocent III. Francis died on 4 October 1226 in a small hut near the chapel where he had heard the life-changing gospel reading. He was canonized as a saint two years later.
Canticle of the Sun
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord,
Praise, glory and honor and benediction all, are Thine.
To Thee alone do they belong, most High,
And there is no man fit to mention Thee.
Praise be to Thee, my Lord, with all Thy creatures,
Especially to my worshipful brother sun,
The which lights up the day, and through him dost Thou brightness give;
And beautiful is he and radiant with splendor great;
Of Thee, most High, signification gives.
Praised be my Lord, for sister moon and for the stars,
In heaven Thou hast formed them clear and precious and fair.
Praised be my Lord for brother wind
And for the air and clouds and fair and every kind of weather,
By the which Thou givest to Thy creatures nourishment.
Praised be my Lord for sister water,
The which is greatly helpful and humble and precious and pure.
Praised be my Lord for brother fire,
By the which Thou lightest up the dark.
And fair is he and gay and mighty and strong.
Praised be my Lord for our sister, mother earth,
The which sustains and keeps us
And brings forth diverse fruits with grass and flowers bright.
Praised be my Lord for those who for Thy love forgive
And weakness bear and tribulation.
Blessed those who shall in peace endure,
For by Thee, most High, shall they be crowned.
Praised be my Lord for our sister, the bodily death,
From the which no living man can flee.
Woe to them who die in mortal sin;
Blessed those who shall find themselves in Thy most holy will,
For the second death shall do them no ill.
Praise ye and bless ye my Lord, and give Him thanks,
And be subject unto Him with great humility.
Written probably in late 1224, this canticle entitled Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures) embraces Francis’ personal theology in which he lauds the personal relationships that the creatures of creation share with one another. It may represent one of the first compositions written in Italian (Umbrian dialect). Tradition has it that the canticle was written during an illness at San Dmiano. Tradition also has it that the canticle was embellished by Fra Pacifico, although there is a great deal of disagreement about this. It is interesting to compare this canticle with psalm 148 (7-14) which is the psalm for this day.
Breaking open The Canticle of the Sun:
1. What does Francis’ praises have to say about our stewardship of the earth and of creation?
2. Most people think of the saint’s affection for animals. What do you think of the poverty that he espoused?
3. What role does death play in this canticle?
Psalm 148:7-14 Laudate Dominum
Praise the LORD from the earth, *
you sea-monsters and all deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and fog, *
tempestuous wind, doing his will;
Mountains and all hills, *
fruit trees and all cedars;
Wild beasts and all cattle, *
creeping things and winged birds;
Kings of the earth and all peoples, *
princes and all rulers of the world;
Young men and maidens, *
old and young together.
Let them praise the Name of the LORD, *
for his Name only is exalted,
his splendor is over earth and heaven.
He has raised up strength for his people
and praise for all his loyal servants, *
the children of Israel, a people who are near him.
Again, this is one of the Hallel psalms, this one rejoicing in multiple aspects of creation. The first six verses begin a progression of praise that begins in the heavens, and concludes beginning at verse 7, and ends with praises from the earth. There is an observable division that the poet honors in this work – a distinction of heaven from earth. In verse 6b the psalm reads, “He set them a border that could not be crossed.” The remaining verses begin with the command, “Praise the Lord from the earth.” It is in this section that we can see the affinity of St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sum, and this psalm as it commands the praises of weather, countryside, creatures, and people. The entire psalm has a cosmic ring to it, that is abandoned in the final verse – a blessing for Israel. Some scholars think that this final verse was a later addition.
|A manuscript of Psalm 148|
Breaking open Psalm 148:7-14
1. What does this psalm say about creation?
2. Take some time and read the opening verses of the psalm. What role does heaven play, that earth does not?
3. How are the praises reversed in the final verses?
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule-- peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.
|Saints Francis and Clare|
This reading from Galatians is taken from the last verses of the epistle, in which Paul summarizes his message, and blesses the recipients. The battle fought in Galatians is whether or not it was necessary for new Christians to follow the Jewish dietary and other ritual laws. This gives rise to Paul’s comment, “May I never boast of anything except the cross…” He then marks out this new time, and this new creation in which his readers live. The old ways (circumcision) counts for nothing, and he puns on this concept of circumcision’s “wound” when he comments on the “marks of Jesus” which appear on his body. It is for this phrase that this reading has been chosen for this St. Francis Day, making an allusion to the stigmata, the wounds of Christ that appeared on Francis’ body. The reading closes with a blessing to the readers.
Breaking open II Timothy:
- Do you ever boast of your faith?
- Do you ever boast? Of what do you boast?
- What marks of Christ do you carry on or in your body?
Saint Matthew 11:25-30
Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
This passage is shared by Mark and Luke, as well, with only minor variants. It probably represents a reading from “Q”, the hypothetical collection of Jesus’ sayings that figures into the composition of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This saying follows an account in which Jesus laments the reception his works have had in the Lake Towns, which rejected his message and ministry. (Luke places it after the return of the 72 – a sort of thanksgiving for their successes). Matthew wants to contrast the rejection of the message by those who thought that they were learned in the Scriptures with the “infants” (his disciples) who have followed his message, if not understanding it completely. But this message is not about knowing, or knowledge. It is about revelation and faith.
The second part of the reading is a saying unique only to Matthew. It seems odd that Luke does not use it, since it encompasses so much of his theology. Perhaps it had been omitted in his sources, or had been lost at the time of his writing. The saying fits well with Matthew’s previous theme, and it certainly fits well with the theology and practice of Saint Francis of Assisi. This is a humility that does not dismiss the difficulties of following Jesus. Yes, there is gentleness and rest, and there is a yoke, however easy.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- In what ways are you “wise” in your faith? In what ways are you an “infant”?
- How has Jesus revealed himself to you?
- What burdens do you carry in your life? Does your life in Christ ease these burdens?
|Saint Francis with the signs of the Stigmata|
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.