Growing up Catholic, a kid normally picked which saint he/she liked the best. Mine was Saint Francis, because he always had a bird on him. Normally the bird was held in his hand and sometimes, one was perched on his shoulders.
A recent trip to a Episcopal church in Fort Collins, Colorado added some insight because the bishop just happened to be speaking there. He shed some light on my favorite saint, things I didn’t know or had ever heard of.
He also started out with the “bird” and animal reference, and yes, we are one of those who has a statue of Saint Francis in our garden. He’s literally covered in bird poo, all over his shoulders and head. I have a bird feeder hanging over him, and often REAL birds land on him and feel mighty comfortable.
Saint Francis was a pretty rich guy. He had what they call an “inheritance” coming his way and it was a large one. Yet God challenged him to give it all up, because if he was tied to Earthly possessions, he wouldn’t be able to freely follow where the Lord would take him.
So much to his parent’s dismay, that’s what he did. He relinquished all right to the money and what he had coming to him and went upon his Earthly journey. Ringing in his ears he heard, “take nothing with you so that you can be the person that God wants you to be.”
What you probably didn’t know and neither did I was that Saint Francis was revolted by lepers. He thought of them as disgusting, filthy and was probably afraid he’d contract the very contagious and hideous disease. When someone has leprosy, they have pieces of flesh tear away from their bones and shed in large oozing layers. They loose their sense of touch. They cannot feel other people and all neurological stimulation is lost in fingertips and on the surface of the skin. They were the supreme outcasts of society. Unfortunately, there are many other sectors of society that we have today that feel the same ostracization. They don’t have open sores though, yet they choose lifestyles that we don’t agree with, so often they feel alienation. The self-righteous love to do that to people. I thought about how cruel people have been to the LGBT community. All they want is to love someone and they are treated poorly by people in our community who tell them there’s a “right” way to do that? Hogwash.
Being raised Catholic and being in the Catholic church my entire life, up until I wised up, I was greatly dismayed to hear that they had a ceremony banning all lepers from the church. Mmm, I thought God welcomed everyone into His house? Why would a church ban ANYONE? Why would a religion NOT accept EVERYONE? I had a bumper sticker on my car once that read, “We have just enough religion to hate each other, but not enough to love one another.” Someone took it off my bumper. Strange.
As the bishop told the story, I could feel my heart swell. On a journey one day, Saint Francis passed a leper. He hurried by, and saw that she had covered her hands, and let a small part of her eye through a sheet so she could see where she was going. He couldn’t wait to be out of her sight. But as he passed, his heart grew heavy. He felt shame and guilt. He probably thought that he didn’t have the right to feel superior.
He could no longer continue. Did he have the right to treat this person so coldly? After all, she was the only one in his path for the day. God told him to pay attention to this revelation and that he should not walk away.
Then, Saint Francis did the unthinkable. He ran back, took the leper’s hand, and kissed the wounds he saw.
When there is an exchange such as this with another human being, our hearts become cracked open and this is what love really looks like. To be one of God’s disciples doesn’t mean to simply be a common follower. Jesus has tons of admirers, but he needs the kind that radiate love and acceptance.
You truly cannot say to anyone, “I do not need you.” The reason is, we must all radiate love, because that is what our world is desperate to know.