St Francis' Day
St Francis is perhaps the best known of the Christian saints and possibly the best loved, particularly because he cared for animals as well as people. Pictures usually show him surrounded by all sorts of creatures. Francis grew up in a very well to do Italian home and he fought as a soldier when he was young. However, a period of time as a prisoner and later a serious illness made him rethink his attitude to life and he became excited and captivated by the story of Jesus. One day in particular he felt God was calling him to 'rebuild God's Church' and in response he became a poor, travelling preacher devoting his life to those in need and to prayer. Others joined him in his way of life and soon a whole missionary movement grew up, known today as the Franciscan Order. Many tales are told of his exploits, a number of which include his concern for animals and his delight in God's gift of creation. Francis was always eager to tell others about Jesus and it is Francis we can thank for the invention of the Christmas crib, which he was the first to use to tell the Christmas story. The following assembly outline is an idea for a presentation about the life of St Francis, linking it to a famous Bible passage from the Sermon on the Mount.
You will find the following Barnabas in Schools book very useful: Stories of Everyday Saints by Veronica Heley.
A number of books about St Francis are also available which have been specially written for children - for example, Brother Son, Sister Moon by Margaret Mayo and Peter Malone.
If possible find a picture of St Francis to show the children - a traditional one with the animals.
You will also need some visuals to accompany the reading, which show a variety of flowers; varieties of birds; and varieties of human faces.
1. Begin the assembly by describing a pet that you have/once had or a friend of yours owns and some of the things that that pet has done. Ask the children what pets they have.
2. Pets are very important to us. Looking after them is a way we learn to care for something other than ourselves and appreciate the gift of creation. Christians believe that God created a great variety of forms of life on earth and that we should join him in looking after it well.
3. Today the Church remembers a man who is particularly associated with animals. His name is St Francis. Tell the stories of St Francis using the notes given here or from a book.
4. St Francis loved animals and all nature but he also loved people and spent much of his time caring for the poor and the sick as well as sharing the stories of Jesus with whoever would listen. Once he even travelled to the Holy Land where there was a war going on and he asked and managed to talk to the leader of the Saracens with whom the armies from Europe were fighting. He was a man of courage as well as compassion.
6. St Francis' life-style was based on the words of Jesus, who talked about how God cares for all of nature including the animals and that God also loved and cared deeply for every human being. Read the following short passage from the Sermon on the Mount which is found in Matthew 6: 25-33 (CEV):
Jesus said: I tell you not to worry about your life. Don't worry about having something to eat, to drink, or to wear. Isn't life more than food or clothing? Look at the birds in the sky! They don't plant or harvest. They don't even store grain in barns. But your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren't you worth more than birds? Look how the wild flowers grow. They don't work hard to make their clothes. But I tell you that King Solomon with all his wealth wasn't as well clothed as one of them. God gives such beauty to everything that grows in the fields, even though it is here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow. He will surely do even more for you! Why do you have such little faith?
To accompany this reading, introduce visuals of flowers, birds and a variety of people's faces around the world, to show at the appropriate points.
7. At the end of his life, even though St Francis was very ill, he wrote a poem celebrating the gift of God to us through nature. He calls the sun and the moon his brother and sister and urges them and all of us to praise God. Play the hymn version (Canticle of St Francis) to the children or better still arrange for a group of children or perhaps the whole assembly to sing it. Here is a version of the original poem:
All praise to you, most high, all-powerful, all good Lord.
To you alone, all praise belongs.
Praise to you, through everything you have made...
All praise, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the Stars,
Set in the sky, so wonderful and bright.
All praise, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And all the weathers, cloudy, calm or stormy,
By which you nourish all you have made.
All praise, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So precious, useful, humble and pure.
All praise, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Who lights up the night.
Her joyful he is! How beautiful and strong!
All praise, my Lord, through Sister Earth,
Our mother who feeds us
And gives us fruits and herbs and coloured flowers.
Praise and bless my Lord.
Thank him and serve him
With great humility.
No wonder people today regard St Francis as the special saint for the way that we look after our world; a saint for ecology and the environment.