Friday, July 13, 2012

The Saints of Assisi and Silicon Valley

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" -- Mary Oliver

Let me introduce you to the two saints I'm spending much of my time with this week. You probably know one of them really well and the other maybe not so much. At least that's the way it was for me until a few months ago. The picture on the left above is the place where Francis was born in 1182. The picture below is where Claire was born in 1193. Both were born in Assisi within 400 meters of each other. Who would have known then what they would do with their one wild & precious life?

I first learned about Francis when I was in grammar school. San Francisco, where I was born and raised, is named after St. Francis and so it was a requirement that we had a brief history lesson about him. As I grew up I learned to appreciate him for his love of animals, nature and his prayer that I have kept on my desk for almost 30 years. "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace...." I didn't know until recently that he was made the patron saint of the enviroment in the late 70's or much about the details of the order he started in the early 13th century. As with most famous people, his biography is much more interesting than the legends and myths that are told about him. He led a "normal" upper middle class life until he was twenty. After he spending a year in jail following his capture during a war between Assisi and Perugia, he was a changed man. A cruicifix at the church in San Damiano told him, "rebuild the church".  He sold his father's horse and cloth to give money for the repair of the church. His father was livid and demanded he stand trial before the bishop.  He was found "guilty", ripped off his clothes, publicly renounced his father and proclaimed God was his only father. He began to live as he imagined Jesus did, working with the lepers and the poor, committed to a life of poverty and preaching the good news wherever he could. He soon founded an order which grew and grew and when he died at the young age of 45 he left behind a legacy that millions of people travel to Assisi each year to try to touch.

Clare's story is not as well known. She was also born into a upper middle class family but was restless from an early age. She took a class from Francis when she was a teenager and was so captivated she ran away from home so she too could give up all her material possesions and join Francis in his work. Francis and his brothers welcomed her, cut off her hair and pronounced her a sister of the poor. Despite angry attempts by her family to take her back she stayed at San Damiano for over 40 years. She loved Francis and his example with all her heart and founded the order of Poor Ladies, eventually becoming Poor Clares.  She was as committed to a life of poverty and service as Francis was and she too was given credit for many miracles.  One of my favorites was that in her later years she was too sick to leave the convent.  One Christmas Eve she saw a vision of the service with the living creche (which St. Francis was the first to create), the music and the prayers that was being held at St. Francis' church on the wall of her cell.  In 1958 Pope Pious XII named her the patron saint of television since she watched the first "live" broadcast in the mid-13th century. (I will never watch television the same way again!)

The story of Francis and Clare is a love story.  A love story between a man and a woman who saw in each other the embodiment of the life they were called to lead. Two people who inspired and cared for each other throughout their lives. A love story between two people for God, and specificially Jesus Christ, and who gave their every breath in the hopes they could replicate his love for all creatures while renouncing the material goods of the day.  

It seems ironic that two of the busiest and wealthiest cities in Silicon Vally - San Francisco and Santa Clara - are named after these two saints who were committed to such simple lives of poverty and prayer. If you believe that the names we give people and places mean something, as I do, then perhaps it is more than ironic that these two great saints who grew up so close together are immortalized in two cities 50 miles apart. Maybe it is a reminder that we must always pay attention to the poor and the divine in our midst as we create the next innovation that will change the world or preach the sermon that we hope might change a life.  

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