Don’t Misunderstand St. Francis

Pope Francis Friday morning in Assisi on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi touched upon the common misunderstanding of the radically holy man: That “Peace was flowing” in some kind of sing-songy way in his life. Whoa, it runs so much deeper, as Pope Francis talked about this morning.

During a Good Friday homily, Dominican Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P., beautifully described how St. Francis was wounded by the Cross of Christ:

Francis was radical. The word has a Latin origin: radix: it means that which pertains to the root. This saint was affected to the root of his being, by the mystery we celebrate today, the mystery of the Cross. After his conversion, Francis lived in barns, with mud floors. He forced himself to care for lepers. He disdained honors, and fled the order that he founded twice, to avoid being made the superior. When he was tempted he threw his body onto thorn bushes or into cold lakes. When he preached, to make a fool of himself, he would sing in broken French, in public places. He caused Popes and Cardinals who heard him preach to cry with compunction. He ordered his own friars to lead him by a rope through public places, deriding him and putting ashes on his head, to humiliate himself. The last homily of his life was given to the nuns of his order. When they asked him somewhat spontaneously to preach, he recited Psalm 51, after which he sat on the ground and poured ashes on his own head. A sign of repentance. That was his final word to the world. What was going on with this man? Was he mentally unbalanced, as his own father thought, or was he passive aggressively seeking spiritual power, as some bishops at the time feared? Was he simply trying harder than the rest of us, a kind of Pelagian moral hero? No, it was none of these. Francis of Assisi was a weak person like the rest of us, but he was wounded by the Cross at the core of his being. What St. Francis discovered was that the love of Christ crucified was his only real riches, and he became fanatical to let nothing of his own weakness separate him from the pearl of great price. And so he made of himself a fool in the eyes of the world, to teach us all the wisdom of the Gospel. That the love of the sacred heart alone suffices, and that this love alone fulfills.

St. Francis, pray for us, that we may live by Trinitarian love alone. That we may be wounded by the Cross and live in this reality.

  • George Albinson

    Consider this by Fr.Rutler-
    Sunday, September 30, 2012

    Father Rutler: Saint Francis of Assisi was not a garden gnome

    By Father George Rutler

    On October 4, we give thanks for one of the best known
    and least known of all saints. Least known, that is, because Francis of
    Assisi was not a garden gnome, or a doe-eyed hippy skipping with animals
    and hugging trees. Garden gnomes do not bear the Stigmata of Christ’s
    wounds. A vegetarian? He berated a friar for wanting to abstain from
    meat on a feast day and said that on Christmas he would “smear the wall
    with meat.” An iconoclast? He was meticulous in the ceremonials of the
    Mass, insisting that every sacred vessel and vestment be the best, and
    his Rule dismissed any friar who parted from the Pope on the slightest
    article of Faith. A pacifist? He joined the Fifth Crusade, simmering
    ever since eleven thousand Muslims had invaded Rome and desecrated the
    tombs of Peter and Paul in the year 846. Francis went to North Africa in
    1219 to convert the Muslims and confronted Sultan al Malik al-Kamil,
    who had just slaughtered five thousand Christians at Damietta. Francis
    fearlessly told the Sultan: “It is just that Christians invade the land
    you inhabit, for you blaspheme the name of Christ and alienate everyone
    you can from His worship.” While counselors called for the beheading of
    Francis according to Muslim law, the Sultan was so taken with the
    humility of Francis that he only had him beaten, chained and imprisoned,
    and then he released him.

    We are engaged in similar challenges today. Of course, we are
    aware of the crisis in the Middle East, but the strife is worldwide.
    Consider Nigeria, whose Catholic population in the last century has
    soared to nearly twenty million. Last week, under Muslim pressure, the
    government stopped the Eternal Word Television Network from
    broadcasting. I have worked with this worldwide Catholic network for
    twenty-five years and have many Nigerian friends. Two days after the
    Nigerian bishops objected to this censorship, a Catholic church was
    destroyed by Muslims, who killed and wounded many worshipers. This seems
    to be under the radar of our own government and the mainstream media.

    May Saint Francis be our model in how to deal with the threats of
    our own day: not enfeebled by sentimentality and relativism, but armed
    with a Franciscan zeal for the conversion of souls. We may not have
    Francis’ charm, but we have in our hearts and churches the same God. By
    the way, the popular “Prayer of Saint Francis,” which begins, “Make me a
    channel of your peace,” was actually the work of an anonymous author
    who published it in France in 1912. Its vague theology and lack of
    mention of Christ, express a semi-Pelagian heresy unworthy of the Saint
    of Assisi. Let the last words of the real Saint of Assisi be our guide:
    “I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you what you are to
    do. Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what
    they sought.”