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