Homily: Blessing of the statue of St Francis at the Great Stupa, 2018

 Blessing of the statue of St Francis at the Great Stupa

I am very grateful for your kind invitation to provide the blessing of the statue of St Francis of Assisi, at this great Stupa of Universal Compassion.

Francis Bernardone of Assisi, lived only for approximately 45 years, born in 1181 or 2, and his death was in 1226. Francis abandoned a life of luxury for a life devoted to Christianity, after reportedly hearing the voice of God, who commanded him to rebuild the Christian church and live in poverty. He is the patron saint of animals and the environment.

St. Francis’s love of God and his great compassion for his neighbour, came from the ideals of the scriptures and expressed through his love of the poor. St. Francis looked at the Bible as guidelines to living life in a way that is morally good. Knowing this, is very meaningful to Christians, because we now see that if we spend time with what is said in our scriptures, we will be able to interpret it in a way that is personal and unique to us. St. Francis shows us that if we spend time with God and his word, as reflected in the scriptures, it will allow us to find out what God wants us to do.

The figure of Francis has always captured the imaginations of people from all walks of life: Christians and Muslims, Buddhists and many other faiths; royalty and prime ministers, rich and poor, intellectuals and workers, philosophers and theologians, poets and novelists, artists and filmmakers, historians and sociologists, peacemakers and environmentalists, people of all religions or none.

Wealth, affluence, amassing personal property and material goods – these were seen by Francis as deterrents to brotherhood and union with God. He saw that those whose lives are dominated by money and what money can buy, are more concerned with things than with people. Furthermore, he saw this to be one of the worst perversions of the natural order, because it leads so quickly to the dehumanisation of the individual. People are more important than things. Francis’ poverty was meant to witness exactly that.

In Assisi, Francis was seen as a peacemaker in disputes between the Christians and the Muslims and between the nobles and their serfs, because he himself was a peaceful man. He told his followers: ‘As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts, thus no one will be provoked to anger or scandal because of you. Let everyone be drawn to peace and kindness through your peace and gentleness.’

Inspired by Francis’ passion for peace, the two recent popes have called inter-faith pilgrimages to Assisi. Our day has also seen a proliferation of war among peoples in the name of faith. Francis’ insight that ‘religious war’ was not of God and his desire to act for peace led him to go from the Crusaders’ camp to visit the Sultan in Egypt. This is an inspiration to those who continue to seek for justice and peace.

Prayer, especially meditation and contemplative prayer, was so important in Francis’ life that at one point he was tempted to abandon his mission of preaching and retire to a contemplative life. Francis gives us striking witness that when we are at peace with our God, we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation, which is inseparable from peace among all peoples. Francis’ deep insight into the inter-connectedness of all of creation and his desire to live simply, invites us to take another look at our present day culture of excesses.

But wherever he was - in a cave or the piazza, on Mount Alvernia or in a cardinal’s palace; alone, with the friars or at work - Francis was always at prayer: sometimes contemplative, sometimes spontaneous, sometimes in common with his brothers, sometimes the prayer of work.

God and Buddha may appear to be different, but when we speak of the nature of God and the nature of Buddha there may be more closeness. We have great understanding of Francis the contemplative man of peace and great compassion. St. Anselm’s definition of God was “that which nothing greater can be conceived.” Shunryu Suzuki often spoke of the inconceivability of Buddha in similar language. Those who undertake Zen meditation seek to express and embody this inconceivability.

Interfaith dialogue can sometimes be superficial, but it can also go deep. Dialogue is the universal antidote to misunderstanding and prejudice, especially the religious kind, even when it falls short, or seems unfruitful.

Today Pope Francis is reviving the spirit of St. Francis among us. We must look to the past, not simply to learn what happened, but to understand ourselves in the present. Let us continue to look to St. Francis of Assisi. And let us see that, with the help of Pope Francis and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, perhaps the transformation that happened 800 years ago is still happening today.

It is an honour and a privilege to be with you today and let us hope that the spiritual gifts of both traditions will help us prepare us for what lies ahead in our lifetime and hereafter.

BLESSING OF THE IMAGE OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI
THE GREAT STUPA
BENDIGO

Bishop: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
ALL: AMEN.
Bishop: Peace be with you.
ALL: AND WITH YOUR SPIRIT.
Bishop: Brothers and sisters, as we begin to celebrate this rite in praise of God on the occasion of the unveiling of this beautiful image of Saint Francis of Assisi for public veneration, we must have a clear appreciation of this celebration. In offering this image of Saint Francis, we hope that the image will inspire those who encounter it with an admiration for the saint who embodied in his life and work a humility, deep respect for others and a dedication to serving others. We trust that his image will not only prompt admiration, but also inspire others to strive to live life similarly. In turn, we acknowledge that the source of inspiration and grace in Saint Francis originated from his saviour, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

READING OF THE WORD OF GOD
Reader: Brothers and sisters, listen to the words of the holy gospel according to Matthew:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the lands.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in Heaven.”

Bishop: Homily

Blessing and Unveiling of St Francis of Assisi Statue 11 May 2018

Celebrant: My friends, we come before the God of all creation, the God who knows every creature and all our needs. With great trust we offer our petitions in the name of all creation.

Reader 1: We pray for the faith communities that they may respond to the signs of the times expressed in the cry of nature, may we learn to respect creation and care for it as a gift of God. God of compassion, hear us.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.
Reader 2: We pray that the God of mercy and compassion may make straight our crooked paths, and may we find new paths to promote peace and harmony in our local and international communities. God of compassion, hear us.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.

Reader 3: We pray that our the human family may grow in faith and respect for all people especially the poor and the vulnerable who suffer most from international insensitivity and greed. May we act with integrity, solidarity and wisdom. God of compassion, hear us.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.

Reader 4: We pray that young people may be inspired by the example of Saint Francis to make lifestyle choices that are selfless and sustainable, promote the care of creation, and encourage practices that respect the rights of the human person. God of compassion, hear us.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.

Reader 5: As we gather today on this sacred ground we pray what earth has given and human hands have made, this St Francis Garden Peace Park may be a place of harmony, honour, glory and praise to God. God of compassion, hear us.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.

Celebrant: O gracious God, giver of all that is good, we bless you for having given us life to share with so many other creatures. We praise you and ask that you continue to pour out your Spirit upon the universe, and in it to show forth your glory. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

Prayer of Blessing
Bishop: Lord, we bless you for you alone are holy, and because in your compassion for sinners you sent into the world your Son, Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of holiness.
He sent the Spirit to sustain his newborn Church, a voice that teaches us the secrets of holiness, a breeze that strengthens and refreshes, a fire that sears our hearts in love, the seed of God that yields a harvest of grace.
Today we praise you for the gifts of the Spirit bestowed on Saint Francis of Assisi in whose honour we dedicate this image.
May we follow in the footsteps of the Lord, keeping before us the example of Saint Francis and grow to maturity measured not by nature, but by the fullness of Christ.
May we proclaim his Gospel by word and deed and shouldering our crosses daily, expend ourselves in the service of others.
As we carry out our earthly duties, may we be filled with the Spirit of Christ and keep our eyes fixed on the glories of heaven, where you, Father, receive those who will reign with your Son, forever and ever.
ALL: AMEN.

Concluding Rite
Bishop: God, the crowning glory and the joy of all his saints, has graciously given you the gift of their patronage. May he continue to bestow his blessing upon you.
ALL: AMEN.
Bishop: Delivered from present evils by the intercession of the saints and guided by the example of their holy lives, may you be found always ready to serve God and your neighbour.
ALL: Amen.
Bishop: The Church rejoices in serenity that you, sons and daughters of the Church, are destined to join the saints in heaven and to share their unending happiness.
ALL: AMEN.
Bishop: And may almighty God bless you all, + the Father, and + the Sons, and + the Holy Spirit.
ALL: AMEN.

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