Reflection: Rebuilding God's house, according to St. Francis

While tending to nature was an important part of St. Francis’ response to God’s call, it is only a part of the whole of his ministry and understanding of “rebuilding” God’s house, the Very Rev. Francis Fornaro writes in this reflection on St. Francis of Assisi, commemorated in the church during October.  Fornaro's full reflection follows.

St. Francis of Assisi is one of the saints we commemorate this month. He led a wonderful and exciting life. He was born of wealthy parents, educated in the best schools (although he wasn’t a very good student), loved to party with his friends (a lot!), joined the military and became a well-respected soldier. And then something changed in him. He began to wonder about his life. He began to notice the poor around him. Something deep inside him was touched and he began to discern his role in the world differently. He allowed the grace of God to transform him. He became intentional about putting his own ego aside for the sake of his true transformation. In a dream, he heard God’s voice say to him “Francis, rebuild my house which is falling into ruin.” He took this literally and thought he should build a church building, but eventually realized that this was a call from God to rebuild his own life and to attend to the world. This is the call of God to all of us.

This call from God is about community; it is about noticing, as Francis did, that God’s world immediately around us and far away needs attention. Today, St. Francis has unfortunately been confined as the saint of the natural world, specifically of animals. While tending to nature was an important part of Francis’ response to God’s call, it is only a part of the whole of his ministry and understanding of “rebuilding” God’s house.

One of the first things that Francis did was divest himself of his belongings, giving them away to the poor. He then began to gather others who understood God’s call for a renewed world into community. These men, and later women, gathered to offer themselves to the world as instruments of peace and understanding. Their work in the world, like ours, was to do what they could to restore God’s order. Not with judgment, not with demands, not with criteria and boundaries. They reached out, gathered and loved all of God’s creation through compassion—unconditional compassion, compassion without conditions. Their understanding was to bring about unity and peace by responding to the needs of others.

Peace and relationship is God’s call and hope for the world. Peace that comes from compassion and care for all others. Peace that is arrived at through relationships of all kinds without conditions. Peace that is understood by the great commandment to love God and love all neighbors.

Our world is in turmoil in so many places. Struggles of war, ideology, power and position plague us as we scramble to find ways to respond to the pain and suffering they cause. Praying for peace is a holy and great beginning to respond to God’s call to rebuild the house within ourselves, and outside. Praying must compel us to action: self-examination, living, and speaking and acting the message of the Gospel. Let us work hard to rebuild a house that is the emblem of peace, compassion and harmony for all.

-- The Very Rev. Francis Fornaro is interim president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge. This reflection was originally published in the October 2015 EDS Now and is republished here with permission.

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