Flower Power

We’re following a Franciscan theme at school this year so I decided to show Zeffirelli’s classic film, Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Phew! I forgot what a flower child Francis was made out to be…all that soft focus running through poppy fields with butterflies and bumblebees and Donovan yodeling in the background. Yucch. Luckily I only have an hour of school time so I had to cut out all that stuff.

It was too much syrup for my liking. There were poppies, and there should have been puppies… and wide eyed waifs and maybe a few widdle kitty cats to top it off.

Then I got to thinking about Francis and little flowers and Therese of Lisieux–the little flower. You get a similar sentimentality in Story of A Soul. On first reading its all about a little French girl who made daisy chains for the Blessed Virgin and went to the beach with Daddy and saw a ‘T’ in the stars and thought the angels put it there. But John Paul the Great named Therese a doctor of the Church! There must be more to it than that.

If that’s so, maybe Zeffirelli actually got it right and I got it wrong. What if to really understand Francis and Therese we have to put on a happy grin and embrace this stuff? What if there’s a sign over heaven’s door saying, “Serious, Grim Faced Aesthetes not allowed”? What if our love of the beautiful and good actually keeps us from loving the Best? Maybe we have to stop turning up our nose and start turning down our gaze. Maybe to appreciate the humble we also have to appreciate humble and sentimental religion.

They say good literature combines content with form. Therese of Lisieux’s little book does just that. It’s about spiritual childhood and hey, guess what? It is written by a child in child-like language. Same with Zeffirelli’s foolish flower child portrayal of Francis. It shows us Francis the Fool. Chesterton’s jongleur de Dieu–the clown of God.

After all, if we’re going to get into the kingdom of heaven we have to become as little children, and what little child doesn’t like puppies and kittens and flowers— and circus clowns for that matter? Maybe to really understand Francis and Therese, and catch a bit of their carefree humility, we have to lay all our stuffy good taste at the door and start enjoying all that Cahtolic kitsch.

In fact, what if we get to heaven and find that this is the stuff that prevails? What if it isn’t all Mozart and Michelangelo and Monteverdi, but happy clappy choruses, black velvet paintings of Mary and happy, plump saints in gaudy polyester outfits? If heaven is for the humble, perhaps that is the sort of heaven we tasteful, educated folks will be ushered into.

So up with flower power. Bring on the posters of puppies with Bible texts, the pictures of Jesus with googly eyes, and all the brightly colored holy cards. Dish up the kitsch. Swallow your pride. Jump on the happy bandwagon with Therese and Francis. Your salvation may depend on it.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13531034731461673925 Julie D.

    Your descriptions make me think of our early Sunday “guitar” mass where I almost always disgrace myself by giggling at the wrong moments because I have had flashes of “Godspell” run through my head. Needless to say, we usually wind up at the later mass which features organ, choir, and no music that was written after 1900 (whew!).This is where I am ever so grateful for that full stadium of saints cheering us to the finish line. As I mentioned to someone the other day, we can’t all love every single saint, although hopefully we can see their virtues. St. Francis and St. Therese have never struck the chord with me that others have … for example, St. Pio, St. Augustine, St Theresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, etc.Thanks be to God for the pithier saints to match us non-flower power folks! :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06264002342939680617 Ave Maria!

    There was nothing gooey or flower power about St. Francis or St. Terese. St. Terese suffered very much in her life and saw the value of offering even the smallest of suffering to God. She did it in the midst of great dryness and darkness of soul that was an act of the will that was of heroic faith and virtue. And her TB caused her much agony and she remained faithful through the physical sufferings and through the spiritual sufferings as well.She was of steel.St Francis was a radical PENITENT.Not for one minute think he was some soggy hippy type. Radical penitent. I have been to some of the places where he was and am a Third Order Franciscan. Unbelieveable the penances he did for the sake of souls. He so closely conformed to the suffering Christ that he was imprinted with the stigmata. He suffered terribly in the physical body not only with the stigmata but with blindness and other ailments. He saw his order undergo trials that also tore at his own soul. His humility and love of the Cross still merit grace in this day and age and draw souls to the Franciscan Order. He was totally obedient to the Holy Father and to lawful authority in the Church. A Franciscan who is not obedient is not a true Franciscan.These saints were no wimps! I wish I had a little of their strength and love for God.Ave Maria!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13550546665720372107 Doc Bubbles

    It was probably the third time I had gone to see Brother Sun, Sister Moon, back in the days when you had to go to things called Repertory Theaters to see old movies (before home videos). I walked out into the lobby afterwards. A sophisticated New Yorker, dressed in black was talking into a phone attached to a wall and she was crying and saying “you have to come see this film, you have to.” Let’s just grant that this film provides an introductory vision. I still often picture the faces of those mishapen peasants building the church when I try to think of what it means to love the brethren…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Dwight Longenecker

    Motion pictures should be called Emotion pictures. The most effective move the emotions, and emotions rule us. An old Russian saying: ‘The heart moves the feet.’


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