Friday, November 14, 2008

Where's St. Francis?

The new Lutheran Service Book (LSB), our excellent new Missouri Synod hymnal, contains a much larger calendar of commemorations of saints' days than our previous hymnals.

However, one of my colleagues of Swedish descent notes the complete lack of Scandinavian saints - even though there were many heroic Christians, some Lutheran and others pre-reformation, that have shaped the piety of Lutheran countries and churches for centuries and are firmly part of the Lutheran heretage and tradition. These saints were omitted without explanation in spite of the fact that he had specifically submitted the names of these non-Germans to the Commission on Worship (COW) for consideration.

More puzzling to me is the omission of St. Francis of Assisi. Where is St. Francis? He is explicitly mentioned in the Book of Concord where he is called a "holy father." He is traditionally credited with the spiritual exercise of the Stations of the Cross - which adorned the walls of most, if not all, early Lutheran churches. In fact, St. Francis and the order he founded, the Franciscans, were in many ways forerunners of the Reformation, serving as a thorn in the side of the corrupt medieval papacy (going so far as to call the papacy "antichrist" a century before Luther) by spurning wealth and piously serving their neighbors in need instead.

Ironically, LSB commemorates St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) on her feast day of November 19 - a "nun in the Order of St. Francis" (Treasury of Daily Prayer p. 929) whose Franciscan ideals led her to found a hospital with her dowry money before her death at age 25 - while LSB says nothing about the founder of the order and the "holy father" who inspired her saintly life.

Maybe modern Lutherans are just embarrassed by St. Francis. I don't have a citation, but I remember an issue of Good News magazine that took a piece of art out of context and claimed that St. Francis (again, a "holy father" if the Lutheran confessions are to be believed) "turned his back on the Bible." I know of no historical work that makes any such claim. Certainly the Lutheran confessions never say any such thing. St. Francis was a man of poverty, piety, and prayer. He was gentle. He had a gift of unique rapport with animals. He is also reputed to have received the stigmata - a physical manifestation of the wounds of Jesus. His eccentricity was always a bit of an embarrassment to church bureaucrats.

Maybe all of these things conspire to deny St. Francis any liturgical recognition in Missouri Synod churches - or maybe it was just an oversight. But whatever the reason, I think Lutherans would do well to honor this holy father, this beggar for Christ, this preacher of peace and harmony, this embarrassment to corrupt popes and bishops - when his feast day rolls around next year, God willing, October 4. It may even be worth penciling this commemoration into your LSB and your TDP.

The Hollywood family has iconography of this holy father adorning our walls. Our brother and friend St. Francis fits in well in our home where the cats outnumber the humans, and where he serves us well in reminding us that gentleness and compassion are virtues, even in these last days where wealth and braggadocio are lauded.


Mike Keith said...

A very good post. I have for the last few years very much enjoyed and grown through observing the Festivlas and Commemorations. I have used various calendars but I decided I would just stick to the LSB. Though, as you point out, the ommission of St. Francis is curious.

Past Elder said...

There's a lot of things about the LSB that are curious along with much that is near-miraculous in these times.

I think the LBW, the great-granddaddy of all these Vatican II For Lutherans books, contained a commemoration for Dag Hammarskjold, who besides his influence in the political realm was a favourite of Bishop Hammar of the Church of Sweden, notable among other things for ordaining the first female bishop in the Church of Sweden.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Father Hollywood. I saw the article you referenced in "Good News" and thought it was quite unfair. There’s an old saying attributed to St. Francis although not directly his, “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.” That certainly doesn’t mean Francis didn’t have regard for the Scriptures but like any true Christian his life bore the fruit of his faith in Christ in the particular vocation to which he was called.

I’ve always loved the Stations of the Cross, especially during the season of Lent. And yes, Francis was a thorn in the side of the ecclesiastical bureaucracy at times. This humble and gentle soul has been loved by countless of ordinary Christians of many traditions (including my Lutheran relatives). His love for our Lord Jesus Christ and his gentle compassion for all living things are an inspiration for all.


Anonymous said...

And after thinking about Scandinavia, I would assume that Saints Ansgar and Olaf are still a part of the commemorations of the LCMS??

One other thought about St. Francis -- while his simple lifestyle was a scandal to much of the worldliness around him, he nevertheless had the highest regard for the ordained holy ministry of the Church because that ministry brought him Christ in the Eucharist.