Saturday 16 August 2014

Feast of St. Clare of Assisi 11th August - Sermon by Br Luke

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Homily preached at Winmalee by Br. Luke  

 Feast Day  of St Clare of Assisi 11th August Celebrated at Holy Redeemer on Sunday 14th  

 Gospel: Matthew 14:22-36

Well I know that it will disappoint you greatly but I'm not going to preach on Ezekiel's vision. I suspect there are those that think Ezekiel was on something when he saw what he described. There are others who actually believe that what he was describing was a UFO. Yes there are people that believe that. But the one thing I did want to say about the vision of Ezekiel is he described four creatures: a man, an ox, a lion and an eagle. These are also the four symbols that we use for the four evangelists.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all have symbols, and they are the four creatures that Ezekiel mentions in his vision. They are also mentioned in St John’s book of the revelation. Same creatures are mentioned there and those symbols have been given to the evangelists. We might talk about this in more detail another day.  There is too much in it for today. And I’m not going to touch on Paul and the Romans because I want to talk about the gospel.

Now I have another confession, it’s all confessions today. Tomorrow is the feast Day of St Clare and as good Franciscans, we were going to keep that feast day today.  But the gospel reading set for some St Clare’s feast day, is not the gospel you just heard today.  Yes it should have been the one for tomorrow, but when I read the gospel for tomorrow, I liked the one that was set for today. So I stayed with the gospel for Sunday rather than reading you the gospel for tomorrow, which is not what I had said I would do. So naughty Brother Luke and I’ll be harsh with myself later.

The gospel today is about faith and that is why I want to talk about it today and not tomorrow. Jesus is walking on the water.  He had spent some time on the mountain praying.  He had just had all the people around him, and then he went up the mountain to pray. The disciples went out on the lake in a boat. Remember that Peter and the others are fishermen. They make their living on the water, on the Sea of Galilee, catching fish.

Anyway Jesus is on the mountain and down he comes. He sees them out, where ever they are on the water, and Jesus being Jesus - walks across the water and gets into the boat. They think is a ghost, as you heard, and they panic. And Peter says “if it’s really you tell me to come out and let me walk on the water toward you”. Peter is one of those spontaneous people you know the ones.  If anyone is going to do something, Peter will do it. It. If anyone’s going to make a fool of himself, it’s going to be Peter. He often just pauses long enough to swap his feet in his mouth. He got fired up, he got all enthusiastic; he hops out of the boat, starts walking across the water and then goes: wait a minute, what am I doing and he starts to sink. And Jesus rescues him.

Jesus says to Peter what is your problem, you started so well, what made you stop? You can almost hear it can’t you. The thing that surprises me is that they were scared of the storm in the first place. These guys make their living fishing on the lake.  Surely they had been on the lake when they had had storms before? What is it about this particular storm that put the fear of you know who into them? They don’t tell us. Frustrating hey. So often those Gospel writers don’t give us enough detail, and here again he doesn’t. The point is of course that it wasn’t so much that there was a storm. It was about Peter getting out of the boat and about Peter, not that he didn’t have enough faith, but that he didn’t sustain the faith.

He had the faith, he was all enthusiastic, to get out of the boat.  He rushes off, gets halfway to Jesus, goes Oh and starts to sink. And that is so like Christians when they are converted. They get all excited, they want to spread the word, convert the world, and then it all goes cold. And then they behave like this is boring now. And they don’t do anymore, and this leads me to Saint Clare.

Because St Clare didn’t do that. Had St Clare got out of the boat, she would have kept walking. And she would have got there. She could even have walked past, knowing St Clare.  Because she is a feisty woman. She was supposed to get married, but she didn’t want to get married. She wanted to go and follow St Francis. But she couldn’t, because she was a female. In those days females were chattels.  They could be bought and sold at their father’s whim. They were given away in marriage, to improve the family situation. To bring money into the family, to settle a dispute or for whatever the reason the father decided.  The daughter was simply a chattel. And Clare’s father had lined up a marriage for her and she didn’t want to marry this bloke. So on Palm Sunday, she escaped from the house.

In Assisi, in the Middle Ages there was a door in the house which was called the door of the dead. That doesn’t mean that there was something evil, what it meant was when somebody in the house died the body went out that door, and that door only. So it was only opened in the case of the death. Sometimes in Assisi today you can still see these doors of death way up high in the buildings. The story goes that, when she left the house, Clare went out the door of death. Now remember this door is not opened often, so its iron hinges were rusted. So you would expect that when it was opened, it was going to squeak. But when Clare opened it, it opened very quietly and did not make any noise.  And so, she went out unnoticed.

She met Francis down in the valley, he cut her hair and he sent off to the Benedictine convent. Because he realised that as soon as her father discovered that she had gone, there was going to be trouble. And boy was there trouble. The family tried half a dozen times to steal her back from the convent, but of course they did not succeed. Eventually she went to San Damiano, and that is where she spent the rest of her life. She was made Abbess. You can read the rest the rest of her story in the back of the pew sheet.

What is important here, is that Clare made a decision and she followed through. When St Francis started the order, the Pope wanted him to take the rule of St Benedict, as the rule governing the Franciscans.  Francis said “no I don’t want to be a Benedictine, I want my own rule of life” and the Pope agreed. For 20 years successive Pope’s tried to get St Clare to adopt the rule of St Benedict, as her rule for her community. And she also said “no”. And she said no to four Popes. Amazingly enough, they did little about it. The day before she died, the Pope signed her rule of life.

She knew what she wanted, and she followed it through. She didn’t get halfway and, go oh alright, I’ll take the rule of St Benedict then. She stuck to it. What was she sticking to? She was sticking to her vision of religious life that was given to her by St Francis. She is often called the alternate Francis.  She is the first Franciscan woman. And in many respects she was more Franciscan, than Francis’s brothers were. Within a very short space of time after his death, the brothers had given up, half of the things that Francis had insisted on, but Clare didn’t.

Clare insisted on the poverty rule right up until she died. She was more faithful, to the vision than some Francis’s brothers. Which is very sad to say but nevertheless true. Why?, because she had faith. She had no doubt. There was no doubt in her mind at all. Once she had set herself upon that particular path; that was it. Nothing, and nobody, was going to separate her from the path. She was not going to be side tracked. She would have got out of that boat, and she would have kept on walking. There is no way she would have got to the “I’m sinking”.

So what I’d like you to take away from the gospel today, is not that we can’t falter, because we are human. If there is anything that St Peter shows us is that he is so terribly, terribly human. You know he has all those wonderful ideas, his all fired up and then humanity or reality gets in the way, and he just collapses in a heap.  But his heart is always focused in the right place. You do have to wonder sometimes, don’t you, why Jesus picked him. He is there because he shows us the humanity. He shows us that, yes sometimes we will fail. But what did he do? He called out help! And Jesus rescued him. That’s the message remember. When we are in the deepest depths and what can be deeper than starting to drown when you’re walking on the water, he called out and Jesus picked him up.

St Clare shows us that we can persevere even in the face of opposition and resistance from others. And in Roman Catholic religious life there is no one who has more authority and more power than the Pope. And to say to the Pope: “No, go get lost”, displays a remarkable sense of vocation. A remarkable sense of confidence, and a remarkable sense of courage. Because at any time the Pope could have said to her “I don’t care what you say Clare, this is it“. But he didn’t; he, they, listened to her.

One of the miracles of St Clare, there are a number of miracles. She was canonised two years after her death, which was very quick. Not the quickest person to be made a saint after death, but certainly one of the quickest. At the enquiry as to whether or not she should be made a saint they described the miracles. You may recall that in the Roman Catholic Church you have to have two miracles attributed to you as a sign that you are a saint. And that’s why sometimes it takes years. In one of the miracles they ascribe to St Clare, there were 50 sisters living in the convent. They had run out of food, because as they didn’t leave the convent, the Franciscan brothers had to beg for food for them. When the brothers got the food from the streets, the food went to the convent, and that’s what sisters ate. It was a hard life, a very hard life. Because if the brother was slack in his job and didn’t go begging, then the sisters were going to be hungry. Anyway, in the miracle, they had one loaf of bread. No way in the world, that loaf was going to feed 50 people. Clare was there and the sister in charge of the food that day said to Clare, mother we’ve only got 1 loaf of bread, and that is not going to feed all of us. Clare went over and blessed the bread and then told the sister to cut, and to cut thick slices. And the sister did. And of course there were 50 slices out of the one loaf of bread. Now no one disputes the miracle because there was a whole room of people, watching as they sliced bread and they all ate. Claire had no doubt that God would be provided. She had no doubt and he did, he met their needs. That is what the early Franciscan lives were like. They just believed and they did. That is why people like Frances and Claire could do what they did. Because unlike Peter, they would have kept walking, and they did. Clare for nearly 40 years and Francis for almost 20. They just kept walking and walking and walking and walking. They never once took their eyes off Christ, who was their focus and the purpose of their lives.