Sunday, September 28, 2008

Francis as Touchstone

St Francis of Assisi, by Jusepe de Ribera (1643)

I love Carmelite spirituality and Ignatian spirituality, but there are times when I feel like their rejection of the world is a bit too heavy for me. Whenever I feel like I'm in a trough, or like I've gone adrift spiritually and lost my way a bit, I go first to Scripture, and secondly to Il Poverello, St Francis, the person who's lived the most Christ-like life since Christ, and who had a positive view of creation.

By the way, just as an aside... Regarding the charge that Francis and his band would help themselves to a treat of pig's feet off of a live animal when they felt a bit peckish.... and you know who you are ;-D ... the legend is attributed to Juniper, and Francis allegedly rebuked him for it, but I don't put much stock it it anyway. There have been arguments going back and forth about whether or not Francis was a vegetarian. He probably was not, but evidence seems to indicate that chronic malnutrition was a factor in his death. An ascetic who was in the habit of giving away everything he had, he in fact barely ate anything at all. Furthermore, as a man who knew the Scriptures, Francis would have been very much aware of the strictures against eating the limbs of a live animal, as laid out in the Noachide Laws, and used by St. James the Just at the Council of Jerusalem to declare what laws Gentile Christians were beholden to.

Francis was a true reformer in a bold and unique sense. He was determined to "rebuild the Church" in conformity with Jesus and the Gospels, but not in confrontation with the hierarchy.

I can't help but to note that in the Reformation, many of the proto-Protestant and Protestant reformers came out of the academy as theologians or professors, such as William Tyndale, John Wycliff, Jean Calvin, Philip Melancthon, Theodore Beza, and Heinrich Bullinger. Some had been ordained Catholic priests, such as Jan Hus, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Knox.

Among the Catholic reformers of the Counter-Reformation, came priests like Ignatius Loyola, Peter Canisius, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, and Vincent de Paul.

Francis was never ordained a priest. It was only with some reluctance that he ever became a deacon.

He was the son of a wealthy businessman, and a popular bon vivant filled with vainglory and dreams of military adventure. Once he was converted, he wasn't interested in titles, property, power, or administering an institution. Francis's only "program" was to live apostolically, serve the poor, and spread the Word as an itinerant preacher in imitation of Christ.

The humility of Francis is something that I can't get over. Attractive in his personality, surrounded by friends and full of talents his whole life, he still realized that he had been a wastrel and that everything good that came out of him and his followers was a gift from God. I find this encouraging to someone like me with far fewer talents who struggles and often fails to live out his Christian vocation faithfully. As Francis said with characteristic simplicity...

I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.

Encouraging for the rest of us.

Paupertas, Humilitas, Simplicitas


crystal said...

and you know who you are ;-D

Heh :)

I don't think Ignatius actually rejected the world. He's the guy who saw God in all things and that's why Jesuits are so out and about in their mission. And he only became a priest later, after he had already had his religious conversion and written down the spiritual exercises. Nobody really warms up to Iggy :(

I do like Francis too, though.

Jeff said...

Nobody really warms up to Iggy :(

On the contrary, I love Iñigo. :-)

Interesting parallel that you point out. Francis and Ignatius were both military men. Francis, though, was sort of a wannabe in that regard. Ignatius? I think he was the real deal, don't you?

Brother Charles said...

From all reports Francis wasn't much success as a soldier. He was probably lucky to have suffered only imprisonment after the battle of Collestrada in 1202. Nevertheless, he maintains a kind of inverse knightliness in his vocation right up to the end.

Thanks for the post to help me get worked up for St. Francis day!

crystal said...

I think for Ignatius, being a soldier was sort of like going into the family business and he found it an attractive career and would have continued if he hadn't been wounded, so he probably was really different from Francis in that.

Garpu said...

I've tried reading about Carmelite spirituality, but I like some balance. (Hah, what else did you expect out of me?)

Liam said...

St Francis rocks.

I think Francis was willing to fight in his city's battles, like all Italians of his period, but his worldview before his conversion was more "chivalric" than really soldierly -- he was medieval in that sense.

Ignatius, on the other hand, was an early modern soldier in the service of a powerful empire.

I never heard the pig's feet story, but I did hear a story that he once ate some chicken when he was ill and afterward ordered a friar to follow him through the city shouting, "behold, Francis the glutton!" Francis probably ate a mostly vegetarian diet (as did many monks) more out of asceticism than any moral quandary about eating animals.

Jeff said...

Brother Charles,

I didn't realize the Feast of St. Francis was coming up on Oct 4. That was serendipitous. Thanks for the reminder!


Iggy was ever the general. There was no way he was going to let his boys surrender up there on Pamplona's walls. :)


Hah, what else did you expect out of me?

OK, now the Benedictine types have been heard from. :)


That's interesting. I read in a book about Franics how the knights and nobles from the upper part of Assisi would have a mock battle once a year with the proles down at the bottom of the hill. Over time, it got more and more serious until people really started getting hurt.

Liam said...

You didn't know his feast day was coming up? That was serendipitous. We're taking the cat to get blessed at out parish again, and then William and I are going to a Nick Cave concert.

Jeff said...


Look into St. Gertrude of Nivelles, patron saint of cats.

Prayers can be invoked against rodents, fear of rates and mice, and fever. It might get that lazy cat of yours to work.

Enjoy the concert!

kevin said...