Perfectly Consistent St. Francis

Holy Father visiting Assisi today, for the saint’s feastday.

Five years ago, your humble servant also paid a visit (which was my third). My dear mommy appears here, on the far left. Two of the fellow pilgrims pictured have gone on to meet Sister Death in the meantime. May God be merciful…

In front of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi
In front of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi

“Lord, increase our faith.” Increase our faith. Increase our faith today. And for the rest of this Year of Faith. For the rest of the Redskins season. For the rest of our earthly pilgrimage. Increase our faith, Lord.

St. Francis of Assisi had some faith. To quite G.K. Chesterton’s biography: “To this mystic his religion was not a thing like a theory but a thing like a love affair.” Religion that is not a theory but a love affair.

To believe in God so much that my life is nothing other than my love affair with Him. I think maybe that explains St. Francis better than anything else I have ever read about him.

colorfrancisTo us smaller, worldly souls, St. Francis can appear inconsistent. He caressed the wolf and sang to his friends the sun and moon, as if he were living in the Age of Aquarius. But Francis also fasted and did penance to the point that his body never recovered. He died when he was my age.

Francis embraced the leper and found Christ in every poor man. But, at the same time, no one has ever revered the hierarchical structure of the Church, the sacredness of the male, celibate priesthood, the office of the papacy—no one has ever revered these things more than Francis of Assisi revered them.

In our mind’s eye, we can see Francis dancing with joy through the trees and wildflowers of the Umbrian hills, a man as free as Jesus Christ Himself. But, like Christ’s freedom, Francis’ came from unstinting, self-sacrificing obedience to divine law. The perfectly free Francis never swerved from the path of perfect obedience.

Inconsistent? St. Francis? Again, Chesterton: “What seems inconsistency to you, modern man, did not seem inconsistency to him.”

…In Assisi today, venerating his namesake, our Holy Father quoted St. Francis’ prayer for his own hometown. The Pope used this prayer for Assisi, and for the nation of Italy (which has St. Francis for her patron). The prayer is like an echo of the prayer of the exiles of Jerusalm (first reading at Holy Mass today), a penitent acclamation of Christ’s dominion:

I pray to you, Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies: Do not look upon our ingratitude, but always keep in mind the surpassing goodness which you have shown to this City. Grant that it may always be the home of men and women who know you in truth and who glorify your most holy and glorious name, now and for all ages. Amen.

St. Francis prayed that his city would be a city of faith and service to the triune God. Pope Francis prays the same. This prayer reminds us of our Holy Father’s words in his encyclical on faith:

If we remove faith in God from our cities, mutual trust would be weakened, we would remain united only by fear, and our stability would be threatened. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that “God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them” (Heb 11:16)… The intention is to say that God, by his concrete actions, makes a public avowal that he is present in our midst and that he desires to solidify every human relationship. Could it be the case, instead, that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God? That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common, which he makes possible?*

The doctrine of St. Francis mesmerizes us with its simplicity: We all have one Father. We are all brothers. Simple.

And his doctrine convinces us by the intensity of his own experience of its truth. How do we know that we all have one Father and that we are all brothers? We know it because Christ taught us. How did Christ teach us? By His wounds, which He suffered for us. How do we learn it? By bearing His wounds in our bodies.

* This same paragraph of Lumen Fidei quotes one of our Hall-of-Famers, T.S. Eliot. In particular, his lyrics for “The Rock.” The long poem packs a punch, especially during these days of widespread federal furloughs.

One thought on “Perfectly Consistent St. Francis

  1. Father Mark,

    I used to think of eyeball-to-eyeball equality as part of the self-less-ness (and courage, and endurance, and tenacity) I would expect to be the best displayed by a group of people in a life-boat, far out at sea, with little chance of being saved (e.g., Ernest Shackleton, or William Bligh — yep, the same Captain Bligh, but quite a seaman, and an even more-imposing disciplinarian). But, those stories of selflessness were more than superseded by stories of cannibalism and dishonor. Desperation doesn’t necessarily breed equality.

    Then I saw “Cast Away” and “The Life of Pi” (haven’t read it yet, but want to), and the entire concept took on a new meaning, the resilience of one man alone, and the depth of one man alone came much more to the fore. None of which solves my quest for an operating definition of “equality.”

    Still searching.

    In God we trust.



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