Over the last several weeks we have been considering what awaited the men who came to join Francis of Assisi and this growing fraternity of believers seeking to follow Christ more fully in the world. We had mentioned there were no rules, regulations, or even a formation program; there was only Francis and the other brothers. But what drew the men to want to “come and see?” Undoubtedly, as today, a complex of reasons, but key among those reasons was Francis of Assisi’s reputation for holiness and miracles.
Francis’ reputation for holiness began at home among the brothers, not necessarily in the public square. The more “public” Francis was still a few years down the road when the reluctant saint began to be called more often to speak and appear and to increasingly gain public exposure. In the beginning, it was his brothers who experienced the holiness of Francis. First and foremost, Francis was a compassionate brother – especially for those who were tempted, spiritually troubled, or depressed. The medieval age was a time when these things were attributed to diabolical powers. Francis had a special gift for consoling those who suffered from such illnesses. Perhaps it stemmed, not only from the grace of God, but also arising out of Francis’ own experience of these same aliments.
As we noted in last week’s article, Francis expected his brothers to learn by imitation – and to understand that as Francis sought to imitate Christ, so too should the brothers. But in reality, the first generation of Assisi-area brothers simply did what Francis did: daily prayer, work at a local leprosarium, go to local churches to participate in Eucharist, eat, pray again, witness to the local Umbrian people near Assisi, and live a life in community. You have to remember this was all new. Prior to this “Franciscan moment” the spiritual journey of medieval people consisted of being a monk or cloistered nun behind the walls of the monastery, being a priest and living close to the sacraments and the Scriptures, or being a lay person and hoping the other groups were praying for you. And then along comes this different, new, intriguing way of being spiritual in the world. And it was not set down in writing; it did not come with instructions. But sometimes is borrowed from the past. Continue reading
In the previous article we had left Francis in the spring of 1205, in his early 20’s, just released from a year as a prisoner of war, suffering severe physical effects and psychological burdens, that to the modern mind fit the description of PTSD. He returned with compromised health, face drawn and sallow, digestion impaired, and was plagued with bouts of recurring fever. When he was out of bed he was listless and kept to the house. A biography written within two years of Francis’ death (by Thomas of Celano, 1C) records Francis’ convalescence from his imprisonment in Perugia as follows: “When he had recovered a little, he began to walk about through the house with the support of a cane… [and] one day, he went outside and began to gaze upon the surrounding countryside. But the beauty of the fields, the delight of the vineyards and whatever else was beautiful to see, could offer him no delight at all [and he] considered those who loved these things quite foolish.” (1C4) Continue reading
The first article of the series about St. Francis essentially proposed that what most people think they know about St. Francis of Assisi is a very limited and romanticized version of the “poor man from Assisi.” Such versions often emphasize the Francis who loves animals, who was an ecologist before “ecology” was a word or a concern, and who wrote the “peace prayer.” The first article ended with a challenge: discover the “real” Francis whose story will challenge, inspire, unsettle, amaze, and maybe…. just maybe, change your world.
Note: every Saturday for the next 20 or so weeks, I will re-post a series on St. Francis of Assisi. I hope you find the series engaging and fruitful in your spiritual life.
Every year – or so it seems – very good biographies of St. Francis of Assisi are published. The ones published in the last 10 years all share some great qualities: readable and increasingly historical – introducing the “real” St Francis of Assisi to the world.
You might ask why I say the “real” St Francis? Did you know that statues of St Francis are the second most popular lawn/garden ornament sold every year – right behind pink flamingos. Rather like the popular icon shown above. That is an image many people have of St Francis, certainly one reinforced by Franco Zefferelli’s film Brother Sun, Sister Moon, another in a long line of romantic interpretations of the poor man from Assisi. Especially in the 20th century, Francis was portrayed as “a free spirit, a wild religious genius, a kind of medieval hippie, misunderstood and then exploited by the ‘medieval Church.’ Or perhaps they know him as the man who spoke to animals, a nature mystic, an ecologist, a pacifist, a feminist, a ‘voice for our time.’ For others he is the little plaster man in the birdbath, the most charming and nonthreatening of Catholic saints…. almost everyone has his or her own Francis” (Francis of Assisi, Augustine Thompson OP). Continue reading
Who among us wants to be considered condescending? Merriam-Webster defines “condescending” as showing or characterized by a patronizing or superior attitude toward others. I suspect no one is soon volunteering. In the Franciscan tradition it is a good thing to be condescending or at least condescendere. St. Bonaventure wrote about the condescendere of God in the Incarnation of Jesus who “stepped down” from his divinity, took on our humanity, took off his cloak and put on a servant’s apron and washed our feet. It is from that “condescending” position we are called to reach up to our neighbors and serve them. Such is the posture of compassion.
Admonition Eighteen: Compassion for a Neighbor
1 Blessed in the person who supports his neighbor in his weakness as he would want to be supported were he in a similar situation.
2 Blessed is the servant who returns every good to the Lord God because whoever holds onto something for himself hides the money of his Lord God within himself, and what things he has will be taken away from him.
If this week’s readings contain any one warning about the human condition it is that too often we are concerned about honor. In the gospel account it is connected with desiring seats of honor. There is nothing wrong with honor or being honored; what is disordered is when a person seeks the bestowal of honor as a right, something earned, or demanded. Then honor is just the surface symptom of Pride – a sin as deadly as they come and as old as time. As Proverb 16 tells us, “Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Pr 16:18). Continue reading
You can hear the reasons from Pope Francis himself:
Sacred Heart parish here in Tampa has an unusual history. It was established in 1860 (modern by world standards, ancient by West Central Florida standards) with diocesan priests, but was lead by the Jesuits of the New Orleans province from 1888 until 2005. Their missionary, church planting, and pastoral work was pretty amazing. In 2005 they withdrew from the parish and pastoral leadership of the parish passed to the Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province who remain to this day.
As a parishioner pointed out, are we perhaps the only parish who has a statue/altar for St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis of Assisi – as well as the tradition of both august religious orders? Fun to ponder – but in any case we are proud of our Jesuit roots (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – For the greater glory of God) and our Franciscan heritage (Deus Meus et Omnia – My God and my all)
Over the last several weeks we have been considering what awaited the men who came to join Francis of Assisi and this growing fraternity of believers seeking to follow Christ more fully in the world. We had mentioned there were no rules, regulations, or even a formation program; there was only Francis and the other brothers. But what drew the men to want to “come and see?” Undoubtedly, as today, a complex of reasons, but key among those reasons was Francis of Assisi’s reputation for holiness and miracles. Continue reading