March 21, 2013
Francis of Assisi
I hope one of the fruits of the election of Pope Francis will be (indeed, already has been) a renewed appreciation for Francis of Assisi--the real Francis of Assisi, not distortions of him to which every age, most especially our own, is inclined. To that end, I've been dipping into the recent biography of Francis by Augustine Thompson, OP. Here's a bit from Thompson's introduction:
In historical writing, I usually avoid suggesting what the past should mean for modern readers. But as many have asked me what I have learned from Francis, I will make some suggestions as to what he has taught me as a Catholic Christian. I am sure that he will teach each reader something different, so these reflections are purely my own. First, he taught me that the love of God is something that remakes the soul, and doing good for others follows from this; it is not merely doing good to others. Francis was more about being than doing. And the others whom the Christian serves are to be loved for themselves, no matter how unlovable, not because we can fix them by our good works. Second, rather than a call to accomplish any mission, program, or vision, a religious vocation is about a change in one's perception of God and creation. Above all, it has nothing to do with success, personal or corporate, which is something that always eluded Francis. Third, true freedom of spirit, indeed true Christian freedom, comes from obedience, not autonomy. And as Francis showed many times in his actions, obedience is not an abstraction but involves concrete submission to another's will. Freedom means becoming a "slave of all." Last--and I hope this subverts everything I have just written--there are no ready and clear roads to true Christian holiness.
Augustine Thompson, OP, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (Cornell UP, 2012), x.