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.

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