My Dear One,
Looks can be deceiving. Do not be fooled. This saint is no statue.
I do not recall where my love for Francis began or who introduced me to him (it may have been my mom, actually). He was always around, of course, and I thought I knew who he was. But it wasn’t until I actually spent time with him, considerable time, that I began to realize just how special he actually was and how deeply he would impact my life.
He’s the kind of person everyone thinks they know but I have found few who actually spent the time to sit down and truly get to know him. There’s so much more to him than talking with animals and concrete statuary. Like Jesus, he has been reduced in the eyes of many to just another “really nice person.” The title “saint” can do that to people, strip away their humanity, smooth out the rough edges, excuse us in casting a blind eye to their more challenging, prophetic side.
Francis of Assisi was born into relative wealth. A robust drinker and partier, he aspired in his younger years to great fame and fortune as a knight. But the realities of battle and a year in prison was followed by an encounter with God who told him to “rebuild the church.” After stripping naked in the middle of town to renounce his father’s claim upon him, Francis began by literally rebuilding a church outside of town. The true extent to which he would rebuild the Church was yet to be known, even by him. (For a decent brief biography of Francis visit https://www.biography.com/religious-figure/saint-francis-of-assisi)
Throughout his lifetime, Francis demonstrated a life lived according to the Great Commandment, the Way, that we should love God with all our Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. And so this week, in honor of the Feast of St. Francis on Oct. 4th, let us look at four lesser known tales of Francis and how they can inspire us to follow The Way.
And let’s have a little fun while we do it. A few years ago, I created a series of short cartoons about St. Francis and St. Clare as part of a children’s program called Francis and Friends (more on that below). Watch each of these videos to hear the four stories.
Heart - Francis and The Leper
Francis helps us learn to love those who need our love. Here he encounters a leper. Whereas he used to be repelled by people who needed help, he now felt drawn to them. This is the work of the Heart - justice is made manifest.
Soul - Francis and The Wolf
Francis helps us learn to love our enemies. Here he goes to a town that’s terrorized by a wolf. After making peace with the wolf, he convinces the town to make peace with the wolf as well. This is the work of the Soul - relationships are restored.
Mind - The Boy with the Doves
Francis helps us learn to love all of creation. Here he shows compassion for the least and lowest. He sets free those who are held captive and teaches a boy the value of life, even the lives of doves. This is the work of the Mind - to live into the Jesus’ Kingdom of God worldview.
Strength - Francis follows The Way
Francis helps us learn to love ourselves. Here he shows us how to celebrate the inherent goodness of creation and live a life of simplicity and gratefulness. This is the work of Strength - to incarnate a life patterned on the way of Jesus Christ.
Through each of these stories, and so many more like them, we gain inspiration for a life infused by the love of Christ.
But the thing that inspires me most about Francis these days is that he was not a monk, but a friar. The traditional difference between the two is that a monk would be cloistered away from the world in a monastery and a friar would be out in the world serving. There is need of both and I by no means intend to subjugate one to the other. As Christ did, we require times of both deep engagement and faithful retreat and we need people who can demonstrate and facilitate both. But as I am currently deeply engaged in the world, I am most inspired by Francis’ example of serving in and among the people, traveling from place to place to preach, heal and help. This is what I do, or seek to do, through my work, my friendships, and my family. It is an example we all can emulate.
Not many of us live lives of seclusion from the world. Francis, therefore, is a saint who shows us The Way of daily living in the world. In what way might you become a deeper embodiment of The Way this week?
How will you uplift others with all your Heart?
How will you love others with all your Soul?
How will you respect others with all your Mind?
How will you serve others with all your Strength?
Do so with all the boldness of St. Francis. (We will give St. Clare her due another in another WayPost.)
With all your Heart, strip off that which falsely portrays you as higher than others - the prestige, the excess, the false honor.
With all your Soul, reach out to those others shy away from - the sick, the friendless, and the needy.
With all your Mind, honor those whose lives are seen as expendable - the poor, the animals, Mother Nature.
With all your Strength, celebrate the beauty and inherent goodness of all that God has made - other people, other creatures, other narratives, your self.
And show forth God’s love to all you meet, preaching the good news to beast and human alike, as you go …
following The Way,
Our Practice this Week
Pray the Canticle of the Creatures
(the earliest and simplest version)
St. Francis wrote one of the most beautiful poems I've read about the interconnectedness of all being. Enjoy letting these words sink into your soul this week as you give God thanks for all our sisters and brothers.
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.
We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,
who sustains us
with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.
Can’t get enough of the cartoons? Here’s a final cartoon with the Canticle in it:
P.S. - In celebration of St. Francis and St. Clare, this week I decided to make the entire Francis and Friends program, both the family version and the group curricula, free for everyone. If you know of a family with young kids or a church or a religious school who might like to check it out, please let them know about www.francisandfriends.org