4th of October
On Saturday the third 3rd of October 1226 a man of 44 died, some three miles away from where he was born. He was weakened by half a lifetime of severe austerity and by disease probably contracted during his constant work with the sick and the outcast. His ambition had always been to live in extreme modesty and although born to wealth he described poverty in his writings in the way that his contemporary troubadours sang of their lady-loves. All his life he had had an eye for the little things, the birds with their brief lives and the poor beggers that the eyes of the world passed over without sight. He thought his own life was unimportant; yet from our perspective he can be seen as amongst the handful of most important Christians from the closing of the New Testament to our own day, or maybe the most important of all.
We know Francesco di Pietri as Francis of Assisi. He was a man of outstanding vision, born in the same brilliant Twelfth Century as Hildegard von Bingen, whom we looked at last time. He shared her fascination for nature, but where she viewed it with the eyes of a scientist he saw it as a poet and theologian – although he utterly lacked any academic training. Thinking of a female visionary of our own times, Greta Thunberg whose activism is partly enabled by her autism, it occurs to me for the first time that Francis may well have shared her condition, as well as being perhaps the man of the greatest moral integrity since Christ.
Francis believed that God was telling him to rebuild his church, and so he did, setting in motion a movement that transformed the Western Church, but beginning by repairing a ruined chapel. He was told to give up all his goods for the poor, and he did, to the extent of standing naked in the town square. He was told to care for the sick, and so sought out the lepers who were outcasts, and tenderly cared for them. He was told to preach to all the nations and travelled across the sea to proclaim Christ to the Sultan of Egypt, who toyed with killing him, but then decided that he was probably harmless, if mad. Above all he saw humanity and the natural world as one creation, equally valued by God, which is an insight which all of us are trying to take on in our own day.