Sunday, May 22, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 21 ~ St. Francis Revisited

A while back, Marianne sent me a review that she wrote of  Francis of Assisi: A New Biography which she read after Sheila Vamplin mentioned it in her post on St.Francis. As I had been wanting to say more about another book from Sheila's post, Sweet River Fool, I thought I'd combine the two for this week's post. I'll begin with Marianne's.

Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson, O.P., was for me an eye-opener. What I’ve known of the saint has been limited to the sentimental picture presented to me in childhood. Thompson’s biography, though, presents a very complex man, struggling with a sense of sin, and sometimes seeming downright mentally disturbed. But what grabbed my interest most was learning how devoted to the Eucharist and to churches Francis was. From the text:
Francis continued to live and work among lepers, taking temporary refuge in churches, praying, working, and, at least at San Damiano, repairing the building. In the lonely and decayed church, Francis found a substitute for the home in Assisi that he had lost. There he became aware of such a powerful divine presence that the once-distant God became for him tangibly present. In medieval Italian piety, God manifested himself in concrete ways and particular places. Francis encountered at San Damiano the consoling presence of the Savior who had suffered and died for him. It was a presence that he grew to recognize in other churches as well. Of this he later wrote: ‘And the Lord granted me such faith in churches, that thus I would pray simply and say: We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, in all your churches throughout the whole world, and we bless you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world’.

Perhaps I’m basically like a medieval Italian because all that holds great appeal for me.

With regard to his devotion to the Eucharist, Thompson says: “Francis returned often to the theme of the Eucharist in his writing, far more consistently than to that of poverty, which has attracted so much medieval and modern attention.” This entailed not only veneration of churches, but of the priests who served those churches as well -- from Francis: “I [venerate priests] because, in the world, I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God except his Most Holy Body and Most Holy Blood, which they receive and which they alone minister to others. And these Most Holy Mysteries I want above all things to honor, to have venerated, and to be placed in the most precious places.”

It would be lovely if more knew of this Francis as well as the Francis who wrote the beautiful “Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.”

And now mine.

I really enjoyed Sweet River Fool by Larry Hunt. It's a very sweet (though sometimes tragic) story about grace and conversion of life. The main character in the book is a man who has reached the very bottom of the barrel, or in his case, the dumpster. Awaking in a dumpster after a failed suicide attempt, Snody, not having even the will to climb out of the dumpster, comes across a children's book about St. Francis, and is so moved by the man that he meets in the book, that he begins to model his life after that of the saint.

Sheila said that in this book, "We learn about his chosen poverty, his love for God, his call, his love of creation, his caring for the needy, his joyful spirit, his life of prayer," and we do. We can see that following St. Francis in these areas can change someone's life, that they can be conduits of grace. We learn something in the book about the legend of St. Francis.

However, all the while I was reading and enjoying the book, I kept thinking, "Something is missing." And that something is the Catholic faith. It's impossible to know Francis without seeing that his Catholicity is integral to everything he did. While this book can be a good introduction to St. Francis, I wouldn't want it to be the only book that someone read about him because it doesn't tell us about the most important area of his life, and that is what we learn from Thompson's quote above, "Francis returned often to the theme of the Eucharist in his writing, far more consistently than to that of poverty...."

As the source and summit of the Catholic faith is the Eucharist, so was it the source and summit of the life of St. Francis, and we can understand neither his spirituality nor his call without understanding that fact. His spirituality was Eucharistic, it was partially his example that led to the practice of Eucharistic adoration. His call was to rebuild the Church, not just a broadly understood church, but the Catholic Church.

Dream of Innocent III, Giotto
For anyone who isn't familiar with the story of this call, I'll explain it briefly here. Francis, praying in the church of San Damiano one day, heard the Lord tell him to repair (or rebuild) His church. Francis took this as a command to repair San Damiano, so he did. Later, while Francis was travelling to Rome to seek approval for his rule from Pope Innocent III, the pope had a dream that St. John Lateran, the ecclesiastical seat of the Holy Father, was collapsing, and a small man appeared dressed in simple robes and kept the church from falling. When Francis got to Rome, Pope Innocent III recognized him as that man.

So, read Sweet River Fool by all means, but go deeper and find the real man.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.


1 comment: