St Francis of Assisi and Authenticity – UPDATED

He’s one of the biggies, so he gets a lot of coverage on his feastday. The Internets have been hopping and bopping on St. Francis all day.

I’ve always thought of Francsicans as jolly folk; my cousin is a Capuchin, and he’s a very joyful priest, and my Secular Franciscan friends are all joyful, too!

For some fun and fantastic Franciscan lore check out Fr. James Martin at America, who celebrates the release of his latest book, Between Heaven and Mirth with some jolly stuff:

This notion of the “fool for Christ” or the “holy fool” runs through the lives of many of the most well known saints, with St. Francis of Assisi being the most notable example. During his life in the 13th century, Francis engaged in what would be seen today as “crazy” actions. (In his time Francis was called pazzo, the Italian word for crazy.)

Immediately after his conversion, for example, in his youthful quest to divest himself of his worldly goods and sever his all ties to his wealthy father, Francis stripped naked in the town square of Assisi. When his brother Franciscans built themselves a house that Francis considered not in keeping with their simple lifestyle, the saint-to-be clambered to the rooftop and began pulling it apart, most likely to the horror of onlookers. When he preached in the nude, the townspeople in Assisi first laughed at him and then were won over by his words. Loving all of creation, even the lowliest creatures, Francis is said to have preached to the animals (and at one point scolded a group of swallows for chirping too loudly during the Mass).

What’s interesting about that story, is that Francis had such a finely calibered sense of occasion that he did not hear overloud birdsong and just say “Aawwww, listen to the birdies! They’re happy to be at mass! Let’s learn from their enthusiasm!” Instead, even though he was quite the animal lover, he instructs us that that even the birds should have a sense of reverence for the Mass — that their joyful participation was welcome, but could not be allowed to distract from the sacrifice of the altar, and become all about them. Everything, even joyful praise, is secondary to Christ in the mass, which is not about creature, but Creator.

Which just goes to prove the point that Saint Francis was not a hippie. He was the opposite of trendiness, or self-involvement. But he was also no neo-con, either. The stigmatic didn’t want the birds to go worship elsewhere! :-)

So, Will the Real St. Francis Please Stand Up? I think because he was authentically Catholic, we do see the real St. Francis, but in bits and pieces, because authentic Catholicism — as Deacon Greg notes about Dorothy Day — means being not conservative or liberal, but simply Catholic, which implies a broadness in thinking that includes bits of everything but has whole-hearted allegiance to, or identification with, no idea outside of the reality of Christ

UPDATED: Now, this is what I was looking for, something that balances all the Franciscan frou-frou (and there does tend to be a lot of it) by appreciating the joy while acknowledging his sorrow:

Francis tried once more to go to war, this time to help Pope Innocent III defend papal lands in southern Italy against imperial forces. Beset with the memory of his gruesome experience on the battlefield, Francis turned back, laid down his arms and, after a period of solitary prayer, began his transition to a life of voluntary poverty. This offered Francis a path to healing but a close reading of the medieval texts shows that the dark shadows in his life never disappeared completely.

For example, the Assisi Compilation, a collection of anecdotes compiled by the Franciscan order in the 1240s, quotes Francis on the “demons” that gave him sleepless nights: “If the brothers knew how many trials the demons caused me, there would not be one of them who would not have great piety and compassion for me,” he said. The account continues: “As a result, as he often said to his companions, he was unable by himself to satisfy the brothers or sometimes to show them the friendliness which the brothers desired.”

One senses that Francis felt isolated in his role as leader of a growing order — that he felt he couldn’t be the man the other brothers wanted him to be. Clearly, he had to have been a great inspiration for the order to grow so swiftly in those years, but Francis in such moments was down on himself.

No saint worth his or her salt
escapes the dark night of the soul…and that night can last for decades.

Pat McNamara looks at a great church serving the community in Francis’ name

I think St. Francis would have agreed with Professor Tim Muldoon on this death penalty piece, don’t you?

St. Francis on recieving the Holy Spirit

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Frances

    Yay! Thanks for featuring Saint Francis. Today is a great day for us in his city on the left coast. We even have the National Shrine of St. Francis here! We just had noon mass complete with plenary indulgence!

    Check out the virtual tours! We even have an exact 7/8 scale replica of the Porziuncola for you all when you visit our pretty little city.

    The pastor gave a fantastic homily beginning with referencing the streakers that seem to be showing up here and there in our otherwise fair city. He mentioned that four times Saint Francis went bare skinned. His conversion, his purification in the snow, his purification in the thorn bushes and his death in the Porziuncola. He likened this to Christ who shed all so that we might be freed by His death and resurrection. He even used the symbol of the artichoke, saying that we needed to be peeled away, one defense mechanism, one protection, one materialism, one mask at a time so Christ can get at our hearts. It was beautiful. And, we Californians just love our Franciscans AND our artichokes. :)

    Love that image you have on there of him in his tomb. I’m not familiar with it. Is it a photo or painting. Sorry, I can’t tell from the web but am fascinated by it!

  • Manny

    I took Francis as my confirmation name on the admiration I had for St. Francis. I loved the fact that he respected animals. However, little did I realize that he’s become sort of new agey. That’s not his fault; just a sign of the times. Plus some of these quirks such as preaching without clothes and just wondering where ever the Lord takes you seem a bit loopy to me in my old age. If I had to do it all over again I think I would go with a saint with more common sense, like St. Thomas Aquinas. ;)

  • Amy

    Thank you for posting on St. Francis. In “The Word Among Us,” the meditation made mention that St. Francis loved to sing. Even when he suffered in his final years of life, he sang. He was a joyful soul, full of praise! What an example he is for all, and especially for those who suffer, are feeling glum and are really down in the dumps. Just sing a little ditty and give a shout to the Lord! Just think how happy those around us would be!

  • Lawrence S. cunningham

    Two small (pedantic?) points if I may:
    When the early Legends write of Francis’s nudity they tend to cite the old line (I think it is from Saint Jerome) “nakedly, to follow the naked Christ” – a reference to the crucified Christ.
    Second, may we put to rest the term”dark night of the soul” since John of the Cross never uses the term.

    [No, we can't. I didn't "quote" John of the Cross there, and "dark night of the soul" is a perfect descriptor. I'll continue using it. :-) admin]

  • Jen

    I never knew til yesterday that Francis never became a priest, but remained a deacon til his death because he didn’t count himself worthy of the priesthood. Interesting…

  • JC, Order Secular Franciscan

    The Lord took a poet named Francis. Francis used this gift and turned his life into a poem -filled with both joy and sorrow. He did not love nature (as is a background in a painting, or romantic scenery), he loved every individual thing in nature – celebrating each being within as a full expression of God. Thus addressing animals wasn`t un-natural but fully nautral in Truth. It is in using this approach, that our Lord renewed His Church through a simple poet – our St Francis.

    Peace and Joy to all !!

  • Frances

    Yes, but, Manny, St. Thomas did not get the stigmata. Old St. Francis must have being doing something right…