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.

Related:
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

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About Elizabeth Scalia