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Looking to SSt. t. Francis


The Man from Assisi and His Message of Hope for Toda짜

John Bohrer and Joseph Stoutzenberger

Copyright © 2014 by John Bohrer and Joseph Stoutzenberger All rights reserved Published by The Word Among Us Press 7115 Guilford Road Frederick, Maryland 21704 18 17 16 15 14

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ISBN: 978-1-59325-254-0 eISBN: 978-1-59325-458-2 Unless otherwise noted, Scripture passages contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Scripture passages marked NAB are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition, copyright © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, DC, and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All rights reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Cover design by Koechel Peterson & Associates Photo credit: Thinkstock, Sunset over the town of Assisi, Umbria, Italy No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other, except for brief quotations in printed reviews—without the prior permission of the author and publisher. Made and printed in the United States of America Library of Congress Control Number: 2014935520

For those who have shown me Franciscan hospitality: Rosemarie Kolmer, OSF, Fr. Terry M. Odien, and Bishop Joseph A. Galante —JDB

For my grandchildren: Erin, Brendan, Flynn, Cormac, and Thomas —JMS

Contents Introduction: Francis, Mirror of Gospel Light / 6 1. The Allure of Francis / 13 2. Francis, the Mystic / 28 3. Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi / 42 4. Francis, the Man of Peace / 61 5. Francis’ Love of Creation / 79 6. Francis Rebuilds the Church / 97 7. Francis on Suffering and Joy / 111 8. Francis’ Sacramental Vision / 123 9. Francis and the Culture of Chivalry / 134 10. Francis’ Message for the Modern World / 146 11. Joining the Gospel Story / 163 For Further Reading and Listening / 180 Endnotes / 182



Francis, Mirror of Gospel Light The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. —Isaiah 9:2 One Christmas Eve a medieval Italian man, who already had a reputation for quirky expressions of holiness, was overwhelmed at the thought that the almighty, pure, and transcendent God would become human. And not simply human but a fragile, helpless child. Born not in a proper dwelling but in a stable. Resting not in a bed but in a crib of straw. The announcement of the birth of Jesus went out not to kings and queens but to shepherds enduring the cold night with their sheep. So Francis of Assisi set up an altar outside of town. He gathered together some straw, placed it in a bin in front of the altar, and brought in an ox and a donkey. In this humble setting, Christmas Eve Mass was celebrated, with Francis delivering a sermon about the little child of Bethlehem. The townspeople with Francis that night understood the message that he was trying to convey: Jesus, the Christ child, warmed against the cold by his mother’s arms and the breath of animals, was Emmanuel—God with us. Francis knew instinctively that words were not sufficient to communicate the glorious message of the Incarnation. A 6

Introduction: Francis, Mirror of Gospel Light

simple, silent reenactment of the wondrous Christmas event brought the message to life better than words ever could. That’s because words tend to come from the head, while God becoming human is a matter of the heart. The image of baby Jesus in the manger, surrounded by simple farm animals, evokes the beauty of Christmas as well as its messiness. After all, real animals are dirty and smelly, and they do dirty and smelly things. What was the Christ child doing in such unpleasant circumstances? The circumstances surrounding his birth set the stage for where he’d be spending his time later in his life—with lepers and sinners! Ever since Francis’ time, the Christmas crèche has been reproduced in nearly every culture and society on earth, and Francis has been revered as perhaps our greatest saint. Like the baby Jesus born in a stable, Francis—dressed in a patched and dirty robe—reminds us that holiness can be found in the commonplace, where we live most of our lives. He remains for us today, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, an image of light in darkness. In his life story, we find the heart of the Christian message.

Communicating the Message of Jesus Even before he died, his contemporaries honored Francis, the poor man of Assisi, as a saint. He has lost none of his appeal for people today. That’s because the message of Francis for us is, quite simply, the message of Jesus. He didn’t couch it in sentimental or pious words and practices. He went to the heart of the matter and stayed there, finding pain and suffering but also great joy. His intensity and passion for the gospel stand out as uniquely characteristic of 7

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his spirituality. As a result, he lived the gospel as no one else had ever done. Francis of Assisi made his point more dramatically and effectively than simply through words, even though he moved people to tears or to the height of joy when he did preach. He typically spoke to the common people of his day through actions, gestures, and images, as well as words. For instance, Francis once gave a sermon on poverty while he and another brother stood in the church wearing only their underwear. His words moved the crowd to tears, but without the visual representation of being nearly naked before the Lord and the assembly, his words surely would have been much less powerful. Francis knew what we moderns have empirically proven: the medium is the message. And for Francis, the greatest medium communicating God’s message about poverty, suffering, hope, and joy was Christ himself. Francis’ life was the embodiment of a saying attributed to him that clearly reflects his spirit: “Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words.” In the rule he set out for his community, he admonished his brothers to “preach through their deeds.”1 We now have Pope Francis. When he was elected in 2012, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina broke with precedent and chose the name Francis. The choice of that name signaled a message to the world that this pope wanted Francis of Assisi to be a model for the Church today. And like his namesake, Pope Francis continually “speaks” his message through his actions. The day after his election, he returned to his hotel to pay his bill in person and placed a call to Argentina to cancel his newspaper subscription. He decided to live in an unadorned room rather than in the papal palace. 8

Introduction: Francis, Mirror of Gospel Light

On his first Holy Thursday as pope, he washed the feet of inmates—young men and women—at a local prison. Pope Francis is preaching the gospel through his actions, his gestures, the way he speaks, the smile on his face, and even the style of clothing he wears. This same dynamic draws us to Francis of Assisi. If we only had his words, he would not be the inspiration he is for so many of us. Instead, we are moved by his gestures, such as exchanging his fine clothes for a beggar’s robe, delighting in music and nature, and smiling with joy at the thought of God’s love despite his physical suffering.

Addressing the Challenges of Our Times Francis of Assisi shed light on what it means to be Christian for the entire medieval world, which was then facing a host of new challenges. Through bold, evocative actions, Francis addressed the darkness of constant warfare, class conflicts, rampant poverty, fear and ignorance about diseases such as leprosy, and church and state rulers who coveted power and wealth more than caring for the needs of those entrusted to them. Catholics today also face many challenges of our own in our personal lives, in our world, and in our Church. Stories about Francis are like snapshots from old that can help us as we try to navigate through our own spiritual crises, challenges, and journey. We can be overwhelmed by all these challenges and focus only on the darkness in our culture, but then we might lose sight of all the people on every level of society who are living heroic lives of compassion. These people seldom make the news: the mother who has dedicated her life to caring for an 9

Looking to St. Francis

autistic child; the volunteer caregiver of an elderly neighbor who needs help and attention; teachers and health care providers who give themselves so diligently to their profession. So many dedicated people work tirelessly to help those who are suffering the poverty of physical deprivation or the spiritual poverty of loneliness, depression, and vague feelings of meaninglessness, whether that’s by helping out neighbors in need or by traveling to the world’s trouble spots. And yet today there still is a pervasive longing for more light. The same was true nine hundred years ago. What does Francis have to say to us, who live in a world that seems so different but in so many ways is strikingly similar to his? Can he offer light in the darkness? That’s what we intend to explore in this book, and we invite you to consider Francis a worthy companion in developing your own spirituality.

Francis as Our Spiritual Guide Hundreds of books have already been written about Francis. Actresses and novelists, believers and nonbelievers, scholars and the curious—all are among those who have written about this medieval saint. If you sample what’s been written over the years, you will find that the authors often say that they were so intrigued by Francis and his story that, without initially intending it, they were drawn to write their own impression of him. They felt as if he were speaking to them. It’s hard not to become intrigued with Francis and to love him, despite his many quirks. So many books about Francis are a labor of love, and that is true of this book as well. When we began the project, many people asked us, “What more can be said about Francis? So much has been written 10

Introduction: Francis, Mirror of Gospel Light

already.” This book is not just about Francis. It’s about those of us today who are searching for more light and believe Francis might have something to say to us. It looks to Francis as a spiritual guide, not offering new information about him, but reflecting on his call for transformation and conversion. Therefore, in this book we will make bold leaps from Francis in his medieval world to our contemporary world. Since our world is multicultural and multireligious, we will also draw references from other religious traditions that resonate with Francis’ spirituality to underscore that his realizations, though unique, have a universal quality to them as well. What’s written in this book should not go unchallenged. There has already been a great deal of mythmaking about Francis—people making of Francis what they want him to be. This book is an invitation for all of us to make connections with Francis for ourselves. It seeks to be provocative, that is, to provoke thought and discussion. Each chapter offers a few suggestions for discussion and reflection related to themes in the life of Francis. Use them as a “Franciscan” examination of conscience to spur thought and response. For Catholics, Francis is part of the past that we carry around within us. He offers us a lens through which to view the challenges we face, both personal and global. Seeing leads to feeling, which may then result in action. With Francis, we discover hidden delights in people and things that we might otherwise overlook. For all the extreme measures he took in his life, he is, after all, a saint of the commonplace. He speaks to our hearts. Francis can spark in Catholics a rededication to what it truly means to be baptized into Christ; his life story provides guideposts about how we, too, can live the Christian life. 11

Looking to St. Francis

That is the very reason that Pope Francis, a Jesuit, chose the name of this great saint; he knew the man from Assisi has something important to teach the Church today. Of course, most of us won’t join St. Francis in giving away all we have to the poor or attempting to make friends with wild animals, but there’s something in these images from his life for all of us. May this book help you to contemplate Francis, the man and the saint, so that you can discover the message he has for your life today. Fr. John Bohrer Joseph Stoutzenberger


Chapter 1

The Allure of Francis The wisdom of the poor lifts their head high and sets them among princes. . . . For strange are the deeds of the Lord. —Sirach 11:1, 4 (NAB) Why do people want statues of Francis in their gardens or call the beautiful Peace Prayer the “Prayer of St. Francis,” even though it was written centuries after him? Why have movies, operas, songs, paintings, a comic book, and innumerable children’s books all been created to portray his life? Why has his most famous canticle been transcribed into numerous modern versions? Why have so many men and women joined the ranks of one of the Franciscan religious orders or the Secular Franciscans? Why is Assisi one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the world today? For over eight hundred years, people from all walks of life— even non-Christians and the nonreligious—have been attracted to Francis. What draws us to him? The men, women, and children who love Francis find in him a freshness of faith. He was a charming and enchanting human being who awakens us to simplicity and unrestrained exuberance of heart and soul and who refreshes our drooping spirits with glimpses of God’s delight in creation and a deep respect for all that is found in the world. The beauty of Francis can be captured in the word “hospitality”—a word that, unlike “charity” and “love,” has


Looking to St. Francis

not yet been diluted. Hospitality means a spirit of welcome and warmth that creates an oasis among us. If you picked up this book, you probably already have an interest in the medieval saint named Francis of Assisi and know some of the basics of his life story. After all, he’s probably the most popular saint of all time. He lived for a relatively brief time, but there are so many facets to his spirituality that he deserves the attention he continues to receive. As with all of us, his life can’t be divorced from what was happening in his world at the time. However, it is how Francis responded to what was going on around him that sets him apart from all other people of his day and makes his story worth pondering for people of all ages. Francis lived in Italy during the Middle Ages. It was a period of transition, with some developments that came to fruition in the modern world just in their nascent stage. One change that directly affected Francis was the rising power of the middle class. The nobility represented “old wealth,” centered on land. During Francis’ time, people who were not born into the nobility could amass wealth without owning the best land or the largest estates. Merchants and craftsmen were beginning to accumulate wealth, at times rivaling that of the nobles living above them in their ornate castles. Members of the new middle class naturally wanted more power and recognition to go along with their increased riches. Francis lived to see this tension between nobility and bourgeoisie erupt into outright warfare. He experienced one such battle firsthand, which no doubt left an indelible mark on him, as any experience of bloody hand-to-hand combat would. Yet despite the social and economic changes taking place around him, Francis had his feet firmly planted in 14

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the medieval world. This was a world of chivalry, of noble knights in armor, of romantic love for an idealized beautiful lady, and of the ever-present Church of Christ, which shed the light of eternity onto all earthly concerns.

The Little Saint of Assisi Francis was born into the family of a wealthy cloth merchant, most likely during the fall of 1182. At birth his mother had named him Giovanni, but when his father returned from a business trip, he nicknamed him “Francesco.” Francis enjoyed the youthful, self-indulgent lifestyle that his father’s money could support. He lived that life to the hilt, always going beyond his friends in pranks and pleasure-seeking. Then he set off to revel in the glories of war, only to be captured and imprisoned for over a year until his father’s money once again rescued him. Shaken and depressed by the experience, he tried a loftier military pursuit some time later. He set off in fine armor to join the forces of a local noble knight fighting for the cause of the pope. The very next day, never getting close to any fighting, he returned home, an embarrassment to his family and townspeople. Then he left the comforts of his father’s house and began spending time near a small run-down chapel outside of the city. While praying in this chapel one day, he heard the voice of Jesus telling him to “rebuild my church.” Francis set about to rebuild that little church, stone by stone. To provide for his own sustenance and supplies for the project, he went about town begging—Francis, the wealthy cloth-merchant’s son! His actions certainly caught the attention of his 15

Looking to St. Francis

old companions and other young people of the town. What exactly was he up to? Some of these men joined him, and thus began the community of “lesser brothers,” known in time as the Franciscans. He also attracted to his life of voluntary poverty and community living a young noblewoman named Clare. She gathered together like-minded women to form a second order of Franciscans, a group called the “Poor Ladies.” In time even her mother and sisters joined her. During Francis’ lifetime, a “third order” also formed, made up of women and men who continued to go about their working lives and, if married, their family lives. (Today Third Order Franciscans are known as Secular Franciscans, and branches of them exist both in the Catholic and Anglican churches.) All three orders dedicated themselves to a life of simplicity and prayer and did not bear arms. Together these three Franciscan orders became so popular that they transformed European life in many ways. Francis began to repair the Church itself—not just one chapel, but the entire Christian world—from the ground up. He was simply trying to live the gospel with complete dedication. That meant living with no possessions, depending on God and God’s people for every need, and identifying with God’s poor, who are called “blessed” in the Gospels. He held onto the joyful spirit of his youth and directed his romanticism toward loftier aims. He dedicated his life to “Lady Poverty.” Giving oneself to this “lady” meant giving away everything—all comforts and securities, even one’s honor. He traveled about with his brothers, simply being a presence that reminded the people he encountered of what was most important in life and of their connection with one another under a loving God. He even traveled to Egypt to speak to 16

The Allure of Francis

the leader of Muslim forces there. And why not? After all, we are all God’s children.

The Allure of Francis’ Lifestyle Francis of Assisi rejected two central realities of his day: money and warfare. Instead, he embraced the joys of simple living, not grasping after the goods money could buy and, instead, cherishing the good that money can’t buy. Where others saw enemies, he saw friends and fellow creatures of God, members of God’s family, one and all. Much like Jesus, he especially included the rejected ones of his day in this family, and he even regarded nonhuman creatures as companions—birds, a wolf, and fish, if early accounts of his life are to be believed. Francis’ dramatic turn away from some of the characteristic values of his day at first was looked upon with bewilderment at best and more often with outright scorn. But soon enough, other young people of his hometown saw something beautiful and profound in what Francis was doing and wanted to join in. Thus began a movement that rapidly spread far and wide, at times inspiring people to live in new ways in the world. As for Francis, he was simply choosing to follow what Jesus had lived and preached twelve centuries earlier. Francis followed a path radically different from the one espoused by the dominant culture of his day; he was truly countercultural. That doesn’t mean that he despised the world or looked down upon it. Indeed, his spirituality was nothing if not earthy—what Christians would call “incarnational.” Jesus is divine and human, God in the flesh. Because of the Incarnation, Christians can’t help but look upon the earthy things of 17

Looking to St. Francis

the flesh with wonder and awe. From an incarnational perspective, the world and all its creatures are not a distraction from God but a revelation of God. If you have ever visited Assisi and looked out from this hilltop village over the beautiful, rich valley below, you would understand why Francis saw all of nature revealing God and singing God’s praises. As part of that love for the goodness of the world, Francis embraced other people. Franciscans are known for their expansive hospitality, which is represented in the joke about the person going to visit different religious houses. At the Dominican residence, the visitor is asked, “Which professor would you like to see?” At the Jesuit residence, the visitor is asked, “Which spiritual director would you like to see?” At the Franciscan house, the visitor is asked, “Have you had your dinner yet?” Francis sang out, “All are welcome. No fuss. Come as you are.” Like Jesus himself, Francis said to the downtrodden, the brokenhearted, the outcast, and the frustrated or crushed in spirit, “Come to me. You will find rest. Come to me, and learn that I am meek and humble of heart, and you will be refreshed” (cf. Matthew 11:28-29). Before Francis, we can cast off our sadness and know joy, light, and delight. We are welcome as we are. During his life, Francis created oases of hospitality, living with the poor and the sick and working alongside peasant crop pickers and manual laborers. Hospitality leaves no room for warfare or clinging to possessions. It calls for simplicity, trust in God, and trust in other people. Just as an open hand extended in greeting represents peace, welcome, and recognition of our common humanity, so Francis and his communities represented a new, refreshing, and attractive way for people to live together. 18

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The Allure of Francis’ Faith The great medieval philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas wrote clear, logical explanations of all Christian beliefs. His writings have served as a primary basis of Catholic thought ever since. However, St. Thomas said that all of his writings were as straw compared to a particular experience he had of God’s presence. Francis was a man who experienced God’s presence in his life. He was not an intellectual himself, although he admired and respected the intellectual life. He realized that living in one’s head can stand in the way of getting to the heart. A story is told of two students who came to Francis and asked to join the brotherhood. Francis told them to go out into the garden and plant cabbages with the cabbage heads facing down into the ground. One of the young men obediently did so. The other one knew that this was not the “right” way to plant cabbages and refused to do so. Francis accepted the first young man into the community and sent the other on his way. The faith of Francis is a matter of the heart. That’s a major part of his appeal, even for those of us who spend so much of our time in intellectual pursuits. We all know that we can’t reason our way to believing that God loves us. We can’t even give a satisfactory rational explanation about why anyone would possibly love us. Francis’ faith centered on the crib and the cross. He left us with manger scenes to help us contemplate the birth of Christ and Stations of the Cross so that we can walk with Jesus during his last excruciating hours before death. We most clearly see God’s love in the crib and on the cross. This type of spirituality that speaks more through images than words represents the Catholic imagination in 19

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which Francis was steeped. This sacramental imagination is why blessing animals on the feast of St. Francis makes perfect sense for Catholics. Modern popes have recognized Francis to be a great representative of gospel faith and conversion of heart, someone to whom they could still look for guidance and inspiration. Pope John XXIII (1958–1963), who was a Third Order Franciscan himself, modeled Francis’ spirituality. He was a bridge builder during the difficult times of World War II and the Cold War. Before becoming pope, he served as the Vatican’s representative to France after the Second World War. One evening some colleagues noticed that he was having dinner in Paris with known members of the Communist party. They asked him afterward if he knew who those men were. He replied that he knew they were Communists, but he didn’t see why that should interfere with sharing a good meal with them. When he became pope, John was known for hospitality, warmth, and charm. One of his first acts as pope was to call for an ecumenical council so that some “fresh air” could come into the Church. The council was to start on October 11, 1962. On the feast of St. Francis, just a few days before the council began, Pope John traveled by train on pilgrimage to Assisi, where he spoke of the need for peace and sharing the earth’s resources and prayed that the council would demonstrate a Franciscan spirit of simplicity and openness. It was the first time a pope had officially traveled outside of the Vatican in nearly a century. John’s successor, Pope Paul VI (1963–1978), made another historic trip, this time to New York to address the United Nations about peace in the world. He deliberately chose the


The Allure of Francis

date October 4, 1965, for his speech—the feast day of Francis. The highlight of his message was this: “No more war, war never again!” It was a plea Francis lived in his own day. The pope’s message was prophetic but, like so many words of prophecy, went largely ignored. Nonetheless, it continued the teaching of Jesus, Francis, and many other Catholics who had realized that being a peacemaker is at the heart of the Christian message. In October 1986, Pope John Paul II (1978–2005) gathered together many leaders of various world religions to pray for peace. The place chosen for the gathering was, appropriately, Assisi. This event received as much criticism as anything Pope John Paul II ever did during his long papacy. Some Catholics did not find it appropriate for the pope to be praying alongside representatives of other religions. It’s hard to imagine that Francis would agree with them. Because Francis had met with a sultan in the midst of a bloody and brutal crusade in his day, Pope John Paul II could see his way to praying with these members of other faiths in our day. In Pope Francis we have someone who wants his papacy and the entire Church to imitate the poor man of Assisi. Soon after his election, a priest from Colombia, inspired by the new pope’s message, sold the Mercedes-Benz his family had given him and got a more modest, less expensive car instead. Addressing a gathering of seminarians and novices, Pope Francis encouraged them to consider riding bicycles or at least drive very modest cars in carrying out their pastoral work. Faith in Christ should bring joy, he told them. Priests and sisters should manifest this joy in their lives and not have a long sad face that looks like “chilis pickled in vinegar.” True


Looking to St. Francis

joy, he said, comes not from having things but from encounters with other people—being present to them and letting them know that they are important.2 Since the time of Francis of Assisi, Catholics have been drawn to this saint who gave his life in imitation of Jesus. Because of Pope Francis, the life and faith of St. Francis is even more on display before Catholics who seek to live out their faith.

The Allure of Francis as Prophet Near the end of his life, Francis successfully petitioned the pope to permit people to receive a plenary indulgence if they confessed their sins and visited the Portiuncula to pray. The Portiuncula is the name of the home church in Assisi for the Franciscans. At first glance, that appears to be simply a pious and not particularly significant request. Who could argue with granting an indulgence for going in pilgrimage to a little chapel and humbly praying there? But here again, it’s important to view Francis’ request in the context of his day. During his lifetime, men could earn a plenary indulgence if they confessed their sins and died fighting in the Crusades. Francis had seen the Crusades up close, at their bloodiest. He saw what Christian soldiers were doing in the name of Christ and the cross. While in Egypt, he begged crusaders to refrain from their brutal treatment of captured enemy soldiers. Humble prayer as a means to a plenary indulgence stands in sharp contrast to engaging in war. Francis realized what others, including Mahatma Gandhi, have also realized: that we must be the change we want to see in the world. That’s the work of a prophet—to point out how 22

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we’ve gotten it wrong and how we can transform ourselves and our world. Francis’ impact on Christianity and Europe was far-reaching and truly transformative. Prophets of old called for personal and social transformation. Francis lived prophetically, calling people to personal repentance and inviting them to enter into a different vision of social interaction. His prophetic message calls for a response from Catholics today because it is none other than the gospel message. Francis took the hard teachings of Jesus, such as turning the other cheek and loving your neighbor as yourself, and lived them. Francis brought these challenges to life and showed us they could be done. He also showed how they could lead us to joy.

The Allure of Francis as Artist In addition to being a prophet, Francis had an artist’s spirit. He was a poet and a songwriter, and his life was something like that of a performance artist. If he advocated poverty and simplicity, he lived it. If he called for peace, he intervened where there was conflict. If he said to strip yourself of your possessions, he modeled it himself. If he saw beauty in nature, he actually communed with nature as few people ever have. Artists typically say that when they begin to experiment, they don’t know exactly how their creations will end up, and the same was true of Francis. Francis came to the realization that Jesus had left us a blueprint for living a good life. Francis took that blueprint to heart and demonstrated how it could be lived. Like a good artist, he experimented and gave himself to his experimentations with great passion. He went where the Spirit led him. During his journey, he came to exemplify certain themes and values that are the subject of the rest of this 23

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book. His unique embodiment of these gospel values, lived passionately and with complete abandonment, makes him a worthy model and companion in our own spiritual journey. Francis has also been a favorite of artists down to the present day. The greatest of all Italian poets, Dante, loved Francis. His opening line of the Paradiso is completely Franciscan in spirit: “The glory of God who moves all things shines resplendent through the whole universe and is reflected from each thing.”3 Many paintings depict events in Francis’ life. A San Francisco sculptor even transformed guns into a statue of Francis. In Santa Fe there’s a beautiful statue of Francis with a prairie dog. Although they can be a bit hokey, the garden statues of Francis serve as a reminder that the very image of Francis conjures up positive, peaceful associations for people. In his early life, Francis was obsessed with seeking personal glory and improving his social status. Through living out the gospel, these “demons” of materialism, consumerism, and militarism were exorcised from Francis. He was then set free to create something beautiful for God. Francis invites us to be prophets and artists in our own attempts to live the gospel. He points the way to gospel freedom and opens us to a deep personal relationship with God and all of God’s creatures. Francis, the youthful dreamer and fun-loving prankster, experienced God’s presence. This experience so transformed him that it led him to dedicate his life to reforming himself and the Church based on what he saw as the fundamental gospel message. The lifestyle that emerged from Francis’ reading of the Gospels was both prophetic and creative. In true prophetic fashion, it challenged where society was headed in his day, and it offered a creative alternative to the ways people were seeking happiness. He and his message brought joy 24

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and peace to many people then, and they account for the fascination he holds for so many people even today.

Why Pope “Francis”? A few days after his election, Pope Francis addressed the media and explained why he had chosen the name Francis: During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don’t forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. . . . How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!4


Looking to St. Francis

Signs of Francis in the World Today

Many places have been named for Francis, either directly or indirectly. The city of Santa Fe, which means “holy faith,” is actually an abbreviation for “The Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis.” Los Angeles was named for the little chapel that Francis repaired and that became the home church for the Franciscans in Assisi, the Portiuncula. Los Angeles is really “The Town of Our Lady, the Queen of Angels of the Portiuncula.” In San Francisco, there’s a replica of the Portiuncula. It was the fervent desire of Angela Aliota, a lawyer and daughter of the city’s former mayor, that this city named for Francis should be a place for prayer and pilgrimage. She solicited funds so that a model of Portiuncula, built to 78 percent scale, would be housed at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi. A group of volunteers hosts visitors and pilgrims at the site. The Portiuncula, which means “little portion,” provides a place for prayer for pilgrims, whether at the original in Assisi or at the replicas lovingly constructed elsewhere. There are at least two other such replicas of the Portiuncula in the United States, the most popular of which is in Washington, D.C., at a Franciscan monastery. Francis’ imprint is not just found in statues, gardens, and cities and churches named for him. If a shelter is needed for homeless people, what better name could there be than “St. Francis Inn”? A shelter with that name in Philadelphia serves meals seven days a week, made possible by many volunteers inspired by Francis. In San Francisco a similar shelter is named for St. Anthony, an early Franciscan. If a hospital is


The Allure of Francis

named for Francis, it signals that its staff and services emphasize hospitality for all and seek to meet the health needs of rich and poor alike with equanimity and grace. Many colleges and universities are named for Francis, even though he wasn’t known for schooling and education. If they are, their mission statement includes their intention to incorporate a Franciscan spirit into their work.

Yo u r Th o u g h t s 1. What are some ways that eternity shines through in your life? 2. What is the allure of Francis for you? 3. How is your life prophetic and a work of art?


Looking to St. Francis  

Even before he died, his contemporaries honored Francis, the poor man of Assisi, as a saint. He has lost none of his appeal for people today...