Francis and the leper: accounts

In the previous three posts, we reviewed some historical context and background for our consideration of the accounts of St. Francis and the Leper. When Franciscans recount the story of Francis and the leper, one might presume that they are telling a story from a common core, perhaps even an official recounting of the story as approved by a Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. Yea… not so much. Every medieval source has its own goal, tone, genre and point of view. And that is especially true in the period beginning some 20 years after Francis’ death (d.1226). In the post-Francis world of Franciscan, as noted in a previous post. The intra-Franciscan factions slowly came to the fore and were readily distinguishable. There was no group that was wrong, but then again, each one emphasized one aspect of “the life” they believed Francis wanted for his religious order. One group believed poverty/destitution was Francis’ intent. Another held up obedience – after all the first vow of obedience was (and still is) to the Pope – and topic Francis most often wrote about. Chastity was not the basis of one of the factions.  What about the third group? They were more of the “can’t we all just get along” after all fraternity was paramount. It is 800+ years later and the same discussion continues on. Each group, consciously or not, promoted their own understanding of Francis in the stories they told, the traits they emphasize, their own goals for the narrative and all that makes hagiography different than history. Continue reading

Pope John XXIII

Today is the feast day for St. Pope John XXIII, the pope who called the Second Vatican Council into session. Normally a saint’s feast day is celebrated on the date of his passing. Pope John XXIII died on June 3, 1963; however, his feast is celebrated on October 11th each year, on the anniversary of the opening of Vatican II. His story is well-known and available on many internet sites.

Born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in 1881, he was one of 13 children. His youth was spent poor as the son of sharecroppers in a farming village of the Bergamo province in Lombardy. Yet his family was able to provide an education that eventually led to the seminary. Continue reading

Francis and the Leper: Fraternity and Factions

…and we continue with some historical context and background for our consideration of the accounts of St. Francis and the Leper.

While Francis was present with them in the years before 1219, the newness and charismatic dynamism of Francis was enough to keep the small group of brothers open to the unfolding vision that God was giving Francis.  They took on no special tasks or roles, rather they committed to a certain way of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  But as seen in the vocational questions above, the world and the Church had true needs, and the Pope especially saw in Francis and his brothers a ready reserve of workers for the vineyards of the Lord. Continue reading

The Franciscan Crown Rosary

At our parish in Tampa we have a Gift & Book Store. After shopping in the store, a parishioner sought out the pastor. “Father, your gift store has rosaries that were made by someone who didn’t know the rosary. Were they made in China?” The parishioner had noticed that some rosaries had seven decades of beads in contrast to the traditional five.  It was not a mistake – those rosaries were called “Franciscan Crowns.”

Franciscan-Crown-RosaryThe Franciscan Crown – The Franciscan Crown (or Seraphic Rosary) is a rosary consisting of seven decades in commemoration of the Seven Joys of the Virgin – a tradition of the middle ages:

  • the Annunciation,
  • the Visitation,
  • the Nativity of Jesus,
  • the Adoration of the Magi,
  • the Finding in the Temple,
  • the Resurrection of Jesus, and
  • the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin.

The Franciscan Crown has also been called the Franciscan Rosary, the Seraphic Rosary or the Rosary of the Seven Joys of Our Lady.

History of the Crown – The Franciscan historian, Father Luke Wadding (1588-1657) dates the origin of the Franciscan Crown to the year 1422. In 1442 an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary took place in Assisi, to a Franciscan novice named James. As a child, he had the custom of offering daily the Virgin Mary a crown of roses. When he entered the Friars Minor, he became distressed that he would no longer be able to offer this gift. The Blessed Virgin appeared to him to give him comfort and showed him another daily offering that he might do: to pray every day seven decades of Hail Mary prayers, meditating between each decade on one of the seven joys that she had experienced in her life. Friar James began this devotion, but one day the Director of Novices saw him praying and an angel with him who was weaving a crown of roses, placing a lily of gold between each of the ten roses. When the novice had finished praying, the angel placed the crown upon him. The Director asked Friar James what this vision meant. After hearing the explanation, he told the other friars and soon this devotion spread throughout the Franciscan family.

How to Pray the Franciscan Crown Rosary: The Franciscan Crown Rosary begins quite simply by stating the first Joy and then praying one Our Father and ten Hail Mary’s while meditating upon it. This same procedure is then followed for the other six Joys. It is common practice to add the Glory Be at the end of each decade. It is customary to finish by adding two Hail Mary’s in honor of the 72 years that Our Lady is said to have lived on earth, and one Our Father and Hail Mary for the intentions of the Pope.

The Transitus of St. Francis

In Western Christianity, the Transitus (translation from Ecclesiastical Latin: crossing or passing over) refers to “the time of passage through death to life”. The Christian theologian German Martinez writes that: “The idea of death in the Latin transitus … represents a unique Christian terminology linked to the paschal mystery. It consecrates the passage of the dying to eternal life. Offering the sacrifice of his or her personal life, the believer shares in the paschal transitus of Christ himself.

Each year on the evening of October 3rd the Franciscan family throughout the world pauses to celebrate the solemnity of our Holy Father Francis’s Transitus, passing over from this life to the next. In his famous Canticle of the Creatures, the saint from Assisi wrote “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape.” That line, written near Francis’s own embrace of Sister Bodily Death, reflects the importance and natural character of death in the life of all creation. Francis was not afraid of what would come at the end of his earthly life, choosing instead to recognize in that experience, not an end, but a transition from one way of living to another. Br. Thomas of Celano recorded an account of that transition, that transitus: Continue reading

Francis and the Leper: Growing Pains

…and we continue with some historical context and background for our consideration of the accounts of St. Francis and the Leper.

By the spring of 1213, four years after the founding of the “order,” Francis’ reputation had risen to the attention of the Italian aristocracy – not just in Assisi but throughout central Italy.  The order was beginning to attract men from the higher social classes. Sons of merchants like Francis, sons of the landed wealthy, sons of ruling households, men with established careers in law, music and the arts, and also ordained priests. They joined the already formed group of men from middle and lower backgrounds and joined in on the muddling through what it meant to follow Christ in the manner of Francis. G.K. Chesterton’s later definition of the Catholic Church – “here comes everybody.” Broadly speaking, apart from their spiritual gifts, these were “company men.” How many friars joined the fraternity in those years?  It is impossible to say, but we do know this: in 1217 the annual meeting (called a “chapter”) made the decision to send out missions across the Alps into northern Europe, the Baltic states, and to the Crusader States in the eastern Mediterranean. Within Italy, six provinces were established; outside of Italy, five provinces were established: Spain, northern and southern France, Germany, and Syria. Some scholars have written that the number of brothers exceeded 700 men. Continue reading

Controversy: the gathering storm

This coming Sunday is the 27th in Ordinary Time of Year B. The gospel is taken from Mark 10:2-12 and involves a question about divorce whose real intent is to bring Jesus into conflict with what the Pharisees regard as the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. As typical of this section of the Markan gospel it follows the pattern of public engagement (vv.2-9) followed by a more thorough teaching for the disciples in a private setting (vv.10-12). 

Our Sunday gospel takes the form of a controversy story in which the Pharisees’ intent was clear: they were testing (peirazo) Jesus. When this word is used in Mark, it is either Satan (1:13) or the Pharisees (8:11; 10:2; 12:15) who are “testing/tempting” Jesus. Their question begins, “Is it lawful…?” However, they aren’t really asking Jesus to tell them what the law says. They already know what the law says: “When a man, after marrying a woman and having relations with her, is later displeased with her because he finds in her something indecent, and therefore he writes out a bill of divorce and hands it to her, thus dismissing her from his house” (Deuteronomy 24:1) Continue reading

Francis and the Leper: the growth of the Fraternity

When Franciscans recount the story of Francis and the leper, one might presume that they are telling a story from a common core, perhaps even an official recounting of the story as approved by a Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. And even if some friars are telling the story from a source different from the “official” record, the different medieval sources used make little difference, yes? Yea… not so much. Every medieval source has its own goal, tone, genre and point of view. And that is especially true in the period beginning some 20 years after Francis’ death (d.1226). Continue reading

Memorial of Padre Pio

Today is the Feast day of St. Pius of Pietrelcina. The saint began life as Francesco Forgione, born in May 1887 in Pietrelcina, a town and comune in the province of Benevento in the Campania region of southern Italy. He was the son of Grazio Mario Forgione and Maria Giuseppa Di Nunzio, one of five children. His family was pious, attending Mass daily, praying the rosary and fasting with great regularity in honor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. By age five, young Francesco stated that his life would be dedicated to God. He was a dutiful son, tending sheep, but also seemed to suffer from illnesses including typhoid fever. Around the age of 10 he told his family that he was beginning to experience visions. He soon became interested in becoming a Capuchin Franciscan. Continue reading

Francis and the Leper

There are many stories that people remember about Francis of Assisi; in my experience, most of them are from a book, the Fioretti, The Little Flowers, a collection of stories about Francis. It is the name given to the classic collection of popular legends about the life of St. Francis of Assisi and his early companions. The earliest extant copy is from 1390, some 164 years after the death of Francis. Scholars agree that it was probably written earlier, but in any case not within 120 years of Francis’ death. It is a collection of hearsay, colorful anecdotes, stories of miracles and pious examples from the life of Francis. Are the accounts in the Fioretti history? Are the pious fables? Are they just hagiography? Continue reading