St Francis of Assisi
The 4th of October is always a special day, because it is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. I first fell in love with St. Francis when I was a student. I was staying with a friend who was studying to be a priest at the English College in Rome. It was January, and the biggest shock for me was how cold it was. The fountains of Rome were all frozen, and the marble floors of the college gave little comfort. So, one weekend, we decided to take ourselves off to Assisi. We took the train, and headed north towards the Apennine mountains. As the train journeyed inland and uphill, it started to snow, and it was quite exciting. After about two hours, we finally pulled into the station, and by now the snow was very deep, and it was getting dark. We got out and looked around, and I remember feeling actually rather disappointed. The town looked a bit dull. But then, I looked up, and there, high above us, clinging to the mountainside like a dream, was the medieval city of Assisi, lit up by the setting sun, shimmering in the snow. It was stunning, and has stayed in my mind’s eye ever since.
During the next few days we walked in the footsteps of St Francis, heard his story, prayed in the churches, played in the snow, throwing snowballs outside the church of Santa Chiara (nearly hitting a nun!), and I remember feeling full of joy. Francis had captured our hearts! And it was joy above all, which was the gift we received from Francis. I think he has been blessing the world with joy ever since.
Isaiah 43: 16 – 21
Philippians 3: 4b – 14
John 12: 1 – 8
Some of you will remember that in the old days this Sunday in Lent went by the title of Passion Sunday. It was on this day that the liturgical colour changed from purple, or Lenten array, to red, but not the fiery red of Pentecost, rather the deep, dark, blood red of Passiontide. At the same time, the focus in the readings changed and they began to point, not to what Jesus was doing, and the miracles he was performing, but what would happen during that last week of his life.
In many ways, while the liturgical colour has not yet changed, and today is no longer called Passion Sunday, the same shift has happened, and the readings invite us to ponder the way of his suffering. They do that by pointing us to the day of [his] burial.
The gospel for today is for me, one of the most tender of passages. It puts us back in the home of Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus. It is this family, you will remember, whom John tells us that Jesus loved.It’s important to remember when thinking about this family in Bethany, that it is about this family that we hear for the first time, in John’s gospel, that Jesus loved someone. Yes, we hear in other places in the gospel of the love of the Father for the Son, and the Son for the Father. And we will hear about the disciple whom Jesus loved. But it is only when we arrive in this home at Bethany, on the occasion of the raising of Lazarus in the previous chapter, do we first hear that Jesus loved another person.
Isaiah 5: 1 – 7
Psalm 80: 7 – 14
Philippians 3: 4b – 14
Matthew 21: 33 – 46
Everything I known about vineyards and growing grapes comes from watching several seasons of Falcon Crest, a Friday night TV soap drama that competed with Dallas and Dynasty. I preferred Falcon Crest over Dallas because there was a priest, Father Bob, who would show up every so often in Falcon Crest, and who wouldn’t love a night time TV drama with a priest in it.
You’ll perhaps remember that the drama of Falcon Crest centered around two branches of a family, living in California’s Napa Valley, one of which had extensive holdings and the other quite a modest operation. Week by week we were offered up a menu of greed, corruption, competition and family dysfunction, with a little sex and murder thrown in for good measure.
What I leaned about vineyards and grape growing from Falcon Crest is that grapes are pretty temperamental. They demand just the right amount of sun and rain and certain soils. But even more important, vineyards are not only big business, and at times a cut throat business, but they are also a long term business. You can’t plant a grapevines in the spring and expect a profitable harvest that same fall. It takes years, and a great deal of hard work before you will see the results of your labours.
Many of you, I suspect, will be familiar with that wonderful story of extravagant love by O. Henry, called The Gift of the Magi. The story centers on a young American couple, Della and Jim, who are very poor but very much in love. Each of them has one precious possession. Della has exceptionally beautiful long hair, which is her glory. Jim has a gold watch, given to him by his father, which he cherishes above all things. It is the day before Christmas and Della has exactly one dollar and eighty-seven cents with which to buy Jim a present. She so badly wants to express her love for him that she goes out and sells her beautiful hair for twenty dollars. With the proceeds she buys a platinum fob for Jim’s precious watch. When Jim comes home that night and sees Della’s shorn head, he is speechless. Slowly he hands her his gift, a set of expensive tortoise-shell combs with jeweled edges for her lovely hair. He sold his gold watch to buy them for her. Each had given the other the most precious gift he or she had to give. The story is a lesson of love, love so deep and so extravagant that it does not hold back or count the cost, but rather gives all that it has.
Isaiah 5: 1-7; Psalm 80: 7-14; Philippians 3: 4b-14; Matthew 21: 33-46
First of all, a disclaimer: I don’t know anything about vineyards or growing grapes. I don’t know how to graft one kind of grape onto another. I don’t know why you sometimes get good sweet grapes and at other times you get wild, sour, rotten ones. All I know about grapes and grape growing can be poured out of a bottle and into a glass, and even then the only thing I know about the end product is what I like, and what I don’t. So I don’t know much about vineyards and growing grapes.
An article yesterday in the New York Times noted that the economic turmoil has produced a “teachable moment” for clergy of all stripes, for imams and rabbis and Christian ministers. The dust hasn’t settled yet, so we don’t know the full extent of what’s happening. But, the handwriting is on the wall… Many of us may very well be faced with uncertainty and loss.
Philippians 3: 4b-14
Several weeks ago I had an opportunity to sit in on a monthly meeting of my sister’s book group. They were reading one of those novels spawned by the success of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Discussion of the book led to a conversation about the present day deficiencies of the Church.