It’s time for the annual rant against Francis of Assisi. To say anything critical of the 13th Century is on a par with saying nasty things about Princess Diana or Mother Theresa, but every year around this time his Canticle of the Sun appears somewhere – at some Saint Francis’ Day celebration or at harvest festival – and gets under the skin.
It’s benign stuff, until the penultimate stanza:
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honour and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.
We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,
who sustains us
with her fruits, coloured flowers, and herbs.
We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon,
for love of You bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by You Most High, they will be crowned.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.
We praise and bless You, Lord, and give You thanks,
and serve You in all humility.
“We praise you, Lord, for Sister Death” Really? Do we?
Nor, I suspect, do the families of those blown apart in Pakistan by a fundamentalist bomber; nor does the mother of a child dying in a refugee camp in Darfur; nor do the loved ones of those who have died because of the inadequacies of our health service; nor do those whom I know numb at a sudden loss.
Death was never a sister; death was only ever an enemy; an enemy that can never be a friend, an enemy that could only be destroyed. Who says so?
Crusty old Saint Paul, not nearly so attractive as Francis the first Green.
Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul is quite certain death is on the wrong side,
Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Nothing sisterly there.
We’ll read Canticle of the Sun at harvest festival, but death will be left out. It would be a perverse God who sought praise for the evil things in the world.