by Larry Peterson
On October 4th, we Catholics celebrated the feast day of the great St. Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis, during his homily at the Mass, encapsulated his namesake with this one brief sentence; “In all of Francis’ life, love for the poor and the imitation of Christ in his poverty were inseparably united, like the two sides of a coin.”
The Catholic Church has a rich and fabulous history of people who have been elevated to the rank of Canonized Saint.It is a four stage process to sainthood. Reaching the first stage a person is then called “Servant of God”. The second stage is called “Venerable”. Beatification is the third stage and then a person is called Blessed. Last but not least is the actual canonization. That is when a person is declared a saint.
All of these people belong in our Catholic ‘Hall of Fame’ and among them are some who are so well known that their names are recognizable by most people even after two thousand years. St. Francis of Assisi is one of those ‘Hall of Famers’ and he lived about 850 years ago.
I am a cradle Catholic and I went to Catholic school from grades one through twelve. I learned about many saints and martyrs and it always seemed to me that what we were taught placed these folks in a heavenly world more so than in a real, earthly world. As a kid, I never understood how the martyrs were willingly and happily dying for Jesus. Weren’t they scared? Did some of them possibly cry? Were they so filled with the Spirit that they were always stoic and reserved accepting their horrible fate with joy while thanking God for the honor of a martyr’s death?
Fear is a normal emotion. Courage is when you stare it down and confront it regardless of the consequences even unto giving up your life. Filled with a faith that was unshakable they loved God and their fellow man so much that their courage knew no bounds even as they faced death. These were people of valor filled with grace, honor, fortitude and foremost, love.
My namesake and one of my favorite saints is St. Lawrence. Legend has it that he was roasted alive by the Emperor Valerian in August of 258 A.D. The story is that Lawrence, having been tortured for a period of time over hot coals said to his executioners,“I believe I am done on this side, please turn me over.”
I do not believe that really happened but it goes to my point of being taught about the saints being “happy” even as they endured the most horrible tortures. Anyway, I try to take my supernal heroes and bring them into my world of the 21st century. Then I imagine them doing their thing in the zero tolerant, politically correct, secularist world that we living, wannabe saints exist in. How do you think St. Francis of Assisi would have fared in the year 21st century?
Peter Bernardone, a wealthy silk merchant from Assisi, and his wife Pica, also from a wealthy family, gave birth to a son in 1181. They named him Johnny but later his father changed his name to Francis because he loved France, a country where he had made a lot of money (maybe dad had his own issues). Anyway, Frank grew up as a wealthy kid and had everything money could buy. He was handsome, courteous and dashing.
In 1204 frank went off to war and had a dream directing him to go back to Assisi. He did return and for some reason lost all desire for the worldly life. He joined a pilgrimage to Rome and joined with the poor who would beg in St. Peter’s Square. The experience moved him to want a life of poverty. Back home in Assisi he began preaching in the streets and soon he had a following.
St. Francis of Assisi dedicated his own life to the poor and to Christ in poverty. He founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of Poor Clares. In 1224 he received the Stigmata, which are the wounds that Christ received when He was crucified. This is not folklore or rumor or an “old wives tale”. The Stigmata has been documented and St. Francis did have it. In addition, the man was known for his love of animals, and many of the statues erected in his honor have a bird sitting on his extended finger and maybe a squirrel at his feet.
So how would Frank Bernardone have fared in modern day America? What would have happened if he decided to throw off his expensive clothing and don some old clothes he got from a thrift store? What if he wore those clothes to Main Street and started preaching on the corner? What if he had tried to preach that way in front of a church? What if he went and knocked on the door of the nearest Catholic rectory and asked for some food?
More than likely the priest probably would have given him a number to the parish ‘outreach’ or maybe St. Vincent de Paul Conference, wished him well and closed the door. Then Frank would have had to find a phone to use and maybe he would have found one and maybe not. Sooner or later he would definitely have been spotted by the cops who would want to see ID and find out what he was doing and where he lived. They probably would have called his father.
Eight hundred years ago in Assisi, Frank’s dad was so infuriated at his son’s behavior that when Frank came home from Rome, his dad beat him and locked him in the basement for a year. Today, Frank’s father could not legally beat his son and lock him in the basement. So he might have asked the cops to ‘Baker Act” his grown son. If you do not know what “Baker Act” means, it is simple. In Florida there is a law that allows the police or family or most anyone to have someone who is acting “irrational’, and could be a danger to themselves or others, to be taken into custody and placed in lock down for 72 hours so they can be evaluated. The person has no say in the matter. Then it is up to the courts. If Frank told a modern day judge that he would rather live with the poor and beg for food even though he did not have to that judge may have put him in the ‘booby-hatch’ for a lot longer than 72 hours.
Let me, as they say, “cut to the chase'”. Francis of Assisi was a spiritual man who loved Christ and loved the poor. He gave up everything worldly to serve the poor. He asked for nothing and eventually thousands followed him as Franciscan priests, friars, brothers and missionaries. The Order of Poor Clares came into existence because of Francis. Francis of Assisi changed the world through the love of the poor and the love of Christ in poverty.
I cannot imagine how a man like Francis would do his thing today. But, all things are possible with God, even in the pompous, secularist, meistic world of the 21st century. Just take a look at who suddenly became our Pope. A simple Argentinian named Jorge Bergoglio was elected and he took the name of Francis, a simple man from Assisi.
copyright ©Larry Peterson 2013