Apr 1, 2024

St. Francis of Assisi

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The BBC in 1957 aired a television special about a family in Switzerland harvesting a bumper crop of spaghetti from a spaghetti tree. Since pasta was relatively unknown in the UK at the time, unsuspecting viewers were oblivious that this news segment was conceived as an April Fools’ Day hoax. No one knows for certain the origin of April Fools’ Day. Theories abound, but we’ll leave it at that. The Bible has much to say about fools. A fool is described as someone who ignores God, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God” (Ps. 14.1; 53.1). Even common distractions have a way of diverting people from thinking more seriously about God. We preen over celebrities, obsess about hobbies, and devote inordinate amounts of time to inane pursuits. In the words of the 17th-century scientist Blaise Pascal, “Man’s sensitivity to little things and insensitivity to the greatest things are signs of a strange disorder.” The Apostle Paul coins the phrase “fools for Christ” to describe how living for Christ can seem like folly in the eyes of the world (1 Cor. 4.10). Holy fools are people who challenge prevailing wisdom by their bold, distinctive witness for Christ. St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) may be the chief among holy fools in church history. This happy troubadour for God became legendary for subverting acceptable norms. His extremism seemed eccentric at the time: preaching to animals, embracing lepers, challenging a Pope, debating a Sultan, and shaking the conventional world to its very core. So, here we are, 800 years later, still honoring his passionate love of God, disregard for material wealth, and the sheer exuberance of his spirituality. The following prayer attributed to St. Francis invites God to possess and capture our souls with divine love:

I beg you, Lord,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 let the fiery, gentle power
of your love
take possession of thy soul,
and snatch it away
from everything under heaven,
that I may die
for love of your love
as you saw to die
for love of mine.
Amen.

Prayers of the Middle Ages, edited by J. Manning Potts

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.