"St. Francis and the Bunny"
April 5, 2023, 6:00 AM

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever. Psalm 118:1

Easter Blessings to all! On the day of Easter, churches are filled with a diffusion of smells, cacophony of sounds, and a spectrum of visual sights. Easter lilies, daffodils, hyacinths, daisies, and tulips dominate the scene. Relegated to the secular world are marshmallow Peeps masquerading as chicks and bunnies; Easter baskets stuffed with chocolate, sweet candy, decorated eggs, and lots, and lots, and lots of grass from all colors of the rainbow; and the smells of maybe a Honey Baked Ham warming in the oven.

What could be missing? While the church is filled with sights, sounds, and smells, St. Francis would say it’s the animals and birds. For some reason, most churches have jettisoned anything that might look secular from the worship experience. The rationale is that on Easter the focus should be on the risen Christ.

For St. Francis, there was no risen Christ who did not include everything in and outside of the Church. The action of Christ was not to redeem only people, but also the whole of creation. There is no separation of the profane and secular. We learned that lesson in the Incarnation when God became human.

“Everything in creation is included and nothing is excluded,” according to St. Francis. The historic churches in Europe seemed to have embraced his view even to the extent that artisans created stained glass windows with a picture of St. Francis and a rabbit embossed in the glass. One might ask, “What does a picture of St. Francis and a rabbit have to do with Easter?” My response is, “Plenty!”

According to Thomas of Celano (c.1229 AD), the first biographer of St. Francis, St. Francis had an actual encounter with a field rabbit. One of St. Francis’ monastic brothers brought him a rabbit from the forest that had been caught in a trap. St. Francis reached out to the rabbit and asked him, “Why, brother rabbit, did you allow yourself to get caught?”

As soon as the brother let the rabbit go, the rabbit jumped safely into the lap of St. Francis. After caressing the rabbit for a while, St. Francis put the rabbit down and freed him to return to the forest. However, the rabbit immediately hopped back into the lap of St. Francis. No matter how many times he set the rabbit down, the rabbit returned to his lap. Finally, St. Francis had one of the other brothers carry the rabbit back into the forest to find his home.

On this Easter Day, the trap of sin in which we have been ensnared is gone. We have been freed. As the rabbit repeatedly returned with gratitude to the lap of St. Francis after being freed, so too, can we forever return to the safety of the One who recognizes us, protects us, and shows us a new way to live life founded in joy. It is at such times we are blessed to realize God never left us. Alleluia!

Blessing and Prayers for all (bunnies included),

Fr. John