Summary: St. Francis stands out in the thirteenth century, perhaps the last great Catholic century, and a recovery of his spirit would be a good start toward converting the culture of this twenty-first century.
October 4, 2018
St. Francis of Assisi
The saint we celebrate today is probably the most famous one of the second Christian millennium, and I suspect also the one we need most to emulate today. Our modern culture is steeped in materialism and consumerism. I can prove that by asking you to consider–if you had a new website that did something no other one can do, how would you finance it? You’d probably hire a marketing agency to go out and peddle its unique qualities to advertisers. Then you’d hope you were so popular that the advertising would increase. And what do advertisers do? They roll out slick ads for your website that use pictures and words to convince folks to purchase items and services that they probably don’t need. They make people mentally enjoy luxuries that mentally, over a period of time, become necessities. Then they have a long-term customer.
By contrast, the picture we have of St. Francis is probably of a gaunt–certainly not overfed–middle aged man in a simple brown robe. What is he doing? He’s either praying or giving away food or clothing to people even poorer than himself. He may be preaching. He may be serving at Mass. But he’s not out at the mall buying stuff and stuffing his face. No, he is enjoying being a disciple of Jesus, who in His days in Palestine did exactly the same thing. We look at Francis and we see an image of Jesus. It reminds us that folks need to look at us and see the image of Jesus, and it prods us with the knowledge that we might be inadequate images indeed.
So the poverty–not destitution–of Francis is a gift to the modern age, an age saturated with stuff, with electronics and bling and video games and websites that distract us themselves and have attractive distractions embedded right inside each page that take us to other distractions that do absolutely nothing to make us better. We are surrounded with aural and visual noise that makes it impossible to hear the still, calm, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. Francis reminds us that everything that is not of Our Lord is chaff being blown by the secular wind, chaff that blinds us and chokes us. Chaff that the enemy uses to keep us from seeing and testifying to the joy of ultimate Beauty, Goodness and Truth.
But Francis also gives us the example of one who is willing to risk everything to spread the Gospel of Christ. St. Francis went to Egypt seven hundred ninety nine years ago, in 1219. He would “cross enemy lines and meet with the sultan in Damietta, Egypt, during the Fifth Crusade. The two discussed interfaith conflict, war and the search for peace.” A film has been produced by Muslims with some Catholic collaboration, and will be released in December.
It is clear that Francis tried to convert the sultan to Christianity. Some sources tell us he volunteered to walk through fire to show the power of Christ, if the sultan would promise to convert when he saw it.
Whatever be the facts, Francis was a devoted disciple of Jesus, and a model for all, not just Franciscans of the three orders. St. Francis stands out in the thirteenth century, perhaps the last great Catholic century, and a recovery of his spirit would be a good start toward converting the culture of this twenty-first century. St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.