Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Most Popular Saint of Modern Times (maybe)

The answer to this question should always be the Blessed Mother. Always. However, due to contacts with other ecclesial communities, many Catholics seem to have developed some embarassment over devotion to Our Lady. This is a shame, but it's true.

St. Francis, though, is a guy I see more and more of everywhere I go. Even Protestants are putting him in their yards these days. Environmentalist hippie-types think he's awesome. I often wonder how awesome people (Catholics included) would think he was if they really examined his life.

The story of his beginning is well-known. Dad was rich. Francis was a party guy. More and more, though, he started to see the emptiness of his life. While in a church of San Damiano, he heard Christ speak to him from the cross, telling him to "rebuild his house." Francis initially thought this meant the building where he was praying. As we know today, Francis's efforts would be a huge part of restoring and reforming the entire universal Church.

This whole experience eventually led to his giving all of his stuff away and taking care of lepers. When his dad found out, he beat Francis up and demanded that he go get all the stuff back. Francis took off his clothes and left them their as his father's "payment." This is when the ball really got rolling.

Francis lived in abject poverty and preached repentance to anyone who would listen. If we know anything about Church history, it's that people who do this sort of thing immediately attract a bevy of followers. This was the birth of the Franciscan Order. The rest is history. The Order would become the major ecclesiastical force of the next three centuries, a visible reflection of the Gospel and the yearning for spiritual perfection.

My favorite St. Francis stories are the ones that nobody tells anymore because they strip away the image of the jolly beggar and remind us that sainthood isn't all burgers, fries, and cherry pies. For example, most people don't like the idea of Francis being tempted by lust to the point where he would roll around in the snow or jump naked into a thorn bush. It's simple. He didn't want to offend God. Mortification kept him from doing that. He picked the latter over the former.

Or how about ecumenism? Francis went all the way to Egypt to try and convert the sultan there. He didn't go for dialogue. He went to preach the Gospel and win souls for Christ. Granted, it didn't work all that well, the sultan didn't convert, but Francis had the attitude that true ecumenism should foster.

Of course, we also have the story of the stigmata. See if this description from the Catholic Encyclopedia is an image normally associated with Francis:

The saint's right side is described as bearing on open wound which looked as if made by a lance, while through his hands and feet were black nails of flesh, the points of which were bent backward. After the reception of the stigmata, Francis suffered increasing pains throughout his frail body, already broken by continual mortification.

Probably not.

Still, this isn't to say that Francis was a gloomy guy borne down by the weight of suffering. His joy amidst all this is a testament to the extraordinary power of grace.

I'll close this out with a favorite of mine and the hippie crowd, though I've noticed they often omit the last couple of verses, what with their being about death and all. I give you the Canticle of the Creatures:

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing. To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no man is worthy to mention your name.

Praised be You, my lord, with all your creatures, especially Brother Sun, Who is the day and through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor; and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather through which you give sustance to your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs. Praised be you, my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no living man can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.

St. Francis, pray for us.


dcf said...

One of my favorite accounts of St. Francis which seems to be left out when his focus on joy is talked about, is when he describes what perfect joy is after Bro. Leo asks him:

Brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: "Father, I pray thee teach me wherein is perfect joy."

St Francis answered: "If, when we shall arrive at St Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are;

if, after we have told him, `We are two of the brethren', he should answer angrily, `What ye say is not the truth; ye are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say';

if then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall -

then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who maketh him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy.

And if we knock again, and the porter come out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, `Begone, miserable robbers! to to the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!'

- and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy. And if, urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God,

and if he come out more angry than before, exclaiming, `These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they deserve'; and taking a knotted stick, he seize us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick -

if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy.

And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, `What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?'

But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, `I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.' Amen."

Throwback said...

Wonderful stuff, sir. Thank you very much!

dcf said...

You're welcome.

I forget to cite is from the "Little Flowers" Chapter 8.