This week began with the 35th anniversary of my ordination, which took place in St. Mungo’s on 18th June, 1983, and ends with my 67th birthday, which takes place on 24th June, the Feast of St. John the Baptist. When John the Baptist was born there was some bewilderment in the family as to why he was being called John, as no one else in the family had ever been called by that name. Of course, the reason was that the name had been given him by God, and there was no arguing with that.
When I was born on 24th June 1951, there might have been an excuse for wondering why I wasn’t called John, seeing as how it was the feast of the birth of one of the church’s greatest saints. Two of my best friends share the same birthday with me and both were named, and baptized John – well, Sean to be exact, but still named after the forerunner of Jesus. My family, however, followed the logic of John the Baptist’s family, and I was named Francis, after my father. My father was well over six feet tall and as skinny as a rake, whereas I never grew taller than five foot, seven inches and, beyond childhood years, skinny has never been a word that would describe me. We came to be referred to as big Frank and wee Frank until he passed away in 1960, when I was just eight years of age.
There are a number of Francis’s in the church’s calendar of saints but, as well as being named after my father, I was very definitely named after St. Francis of Assisi to whom there was great devotion in the family. I’m very happy to be named after Francis of Assisi as I have always been enamoured by his story, his simplicity, and his child-like spirit. I have visited Assisi a number of times and, while there are the magnificent Basilicas of St. Francis and St. Clare, I have always preferred walking down the hill in the early morning to the outskirts of the town and the little church of San Damiano, where there was the San Damiano cross from which Jesus reputedly spoke to Francis and asked him to restore His church. I have a copy of this cross hanging in my room. There is only a replica of the cross there now, the original being in the Basilica of St. Clare, Francis’s soul mate. San Damiano in fact became the first convent of St. Clare. I also loved climbing up the mountain to the Carceri where Francis used to go to spend long periods in solitude and contemplation. Another place I liked to visit was the Cathedral of San Ruffino in Assisi where the Passionist, St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, was baptized in 1838. He was named and baptized Francis.
These are just a few of the wonderful places to visit in and around Assisi, and, when I think about it, I can find some hope in my sadness of last week when, for a second time in 4 years, the Glasgow School of Art was ravaged by fire, to remember the times when the Basilica of St. Francis has been severely damaged by earthquakes and each time it was somehow restored to its former magnificence. Maybe a prayer for the intercession of St. Francis would not go amiss in the hope that the School of Art can be restored to former glory as well.
I started by saying that my week began with my anniversary of ordination and ended in my birthday, but it might be truer to say that my week began with Father’s Day on 17th June. Father Lawrence; Father Justinian; Father Gareth and myself, were charmed and humbled by those who handed in cards and goodies to us for Father’s Day. It was a lovely gesture and much appreciated. Let’s close with the Peace Prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.