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Living into a new way of being: spending time with St Francis

19 Oct 2018

Naming God: who we are before God

This is the second of three talks given for a St Francis Day retreat this year at the Church of the Resurrection, Mount Macedon.

 

 

Praises of God

 

1.         you are holy, the only God who does wonder

2.         you are strong

3.         you are great

4.         you are the most high

5.         are all-powerful

6.         you holy father, king of heaven and earth

7.         you are three and one, Lord God of gods

8.         you are the good, all good, supreme good, Lord God living and true

9.         you are love

10.       you are wisdom

11.       you are humility 

12.       you are patience

13.       you are beauty

14.       you are meekness

15.       you are security

16.       you are quietude

17.       you are joy and gladness

18.       you are our hope

19.       you are justice

20.       you are temperance

21.       you are all our riches at sufficiency

22.       you are beauty

23.       you are meekness

24.       you are the protector

25.       you are the guardian and the defender

26.       you are our strength

27.       you are our refuge

28.       you are our hope

29.       you are our faith

30.       you are our charity

31.       you are our sweetness

32.       you are our eternal life

33.       Great and wondrous Lord God almighty merciful saviour

 

The Praises of God, or chartula as Br Leo (a close Brother of St Francis) called it, was written on a piece of goat skin parchment about 10cm wide by 13.5cm high. This poem is in halting Latin with dark brown ink and laid out over sixteen lines. On the other side again in Caroline minuscule script is the rendering of a blessing from the Book of Numbers: 

May the Lord bless you and guard you, 

May he show you his face and have mercy on you, 

May he turn his countenance to you and give you peace. 

The blessing is addressed to Br Leo and signed with the Tau cross - a cross in the form of a T - by Francis who regularly signed this way.  In addition on the parchment, in red ink and a different hand, are lines by Br Leo, who identifies himself and explains how the poem came to be written by Francis. The chartula has been folded twice and forms a small rectangle.

 

St Francis wrote this prayer, The Praises of God, while on a 40-day retreat from August 15th (Feast of the Assumption) to September 29th (feast of St Michael and All Angels) in 1224 at La Vergna.  Some hagiographers believed that he wrote the praises to comfort Br Leo in response to a spiritual crisis that he was experiencing, but Br Leo writes that the words were written by Francis in gratitude for the vision of an Angel and the impression of Christ’s stigmata on his body. Br Leo kept this parchment till his death around 1271. (For a more detailed and fascinating explanation of the Chartula see: The Autographs of Brother Francis, Jean-Francois Godet-Calogeras in The Writings of Francis of Assisi, Letters and Prayers, Ed by Blastic, Hammond & Hellman, 2011, Franciscan Institute Publications P52-81)

 

Rather than choosing one or two of these names of God to reflect on, this prayer invites me to ponder the plurality of names given to God and qualities ascribed to God.  For me it prompts the question: what place can a person - and here in  particular, a saint - go to where the nature of God is understood and praised in such a varied way and yet remain one God?  

 

Soon after his conversion before the crucifix Francis begged the old Benedictine priest living in that church that he be able to ‘stay for the Lord’s sake.’ (A Mended and Broken Heart, Wendy Murray, Basic Books, 2008, p58) The priest relented. So, in 1206 Francis Bernadone became an oblate under the protection of the church, and at that time was thereby subject to its jurisdiction, rather than the civil one. But dad, Pietro di Bernadone, continued to demand return of his money from Francis. He now pursued Francis using the authority of the Church and brought down legal action. A trial was subsequently held before Bishop Guido.

 

Amongst the early documents about this trial are these words addressed to Francis from the Bishop: “Your father is infuriated and extremely scandalised. If you wish to serve God, return him the money you have, because God does not want you to spend your money unjustly acquired on the work of the church. (Your father’s) anger will abate when he gets the money back.  My son, have confidence in the Lord and act courageously…”

 

St Francis acted courageously, but in a different way from expected. He responded:

‘My Lord, I will gladly