Sunday, December 21, 2014

St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton

"It may be an excellent thing that cracks should be filled up, but preferably not by somebody who is himself cracked." -G.K. Chesterton

This quote comes from a description of when St. Francis, so full of indignation about his father, Pietro Bernardone's business, completely strips his clothing and goes begging in the streets for building materials for an obsession he has with mending the wall in the city.

It is not just any wall. It was the ruins of the Church of St. Damian, an altar and a place he had become accustomed to praying at. He worked, collecting stones and food along the way, until it was finished.

Is it any wonder that my understanding of St. Francis of Assisi was skewed by the watching of "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" in high school? As I began reading this work by Chesterton, I kept thinking to myself.. wait, wait, wait... I thought St. Francis was the guy who was really into Donovan? After throwing things out the window, he prances around all emotional and naked and stuff? Is it any wonder that a snippet on wikipedia or a 1970's rendition of his life could easily lead you into thinking he was sort of a stupid guy, or at least somewhat flighty?

"This sense of the great gratitude and the sublime dependence was not a phrase or even a sentiment; it is the whole point that this was the very rock of reality." - G.K. Chesterton

Was he a sentimental animal-lover, as many statues and artistic renditions or children's books would have us to believe? No. St. Francis was actually a very intelligent man. His rock was Christ. He was a poet. He was in high standing in his hometown (I have been to Assisi; it is beautiful!) In fact, he was somewhat of a prince of the 13th century. His mother felt he was too prince-like for her care. (quote).  He was of high status, and also an accomplished swordsman, and he "delighted in all the exercises of chivalry." (see chapter 3: St. Francis the Fighter). He attempted to go to war, but after some time in prison, a sickness brought him home, and so he re-interpreted his dreams of fighting to mean engaging in the spiritual battle of ministry to lepers of Perugia.

Prince-like though he may have been for the 12th century, he was not popular.

"All those limits in good fellowship and good form, all those landmarks of social life that divide the tolerable from the intolerable, all those social scruples and conventional conditions that are normal and even noble in ordinary men, all those things that hold many decent societies together, could never hold this man at all."  
-G.K. Chesterton

He took to a cave when in humiliation, his hopes for chivalry didn't pan out.  He seems to have a sense, though, that all of his aims, though illogical by worldly standards, made perfect sense in the economy of a spiritual life, and it made perfect sense in his own mind. The question was not a question of wealth or ambition, but of heaven and all of the rewards that awaited him there.

"He devoured fasting as a man devours food. He plunged after poverty as men have dug madly for gold."- G.K. Chesterton 

He dug madly for God's grace, Mary's grace, instead of gold. He searched madly for the stones, instead of status, for the chance to rebuild St. Damian's church and two other famous churches, and sang while he built them.  He preached boldly, and searched madly for followers- Christ's disciples- rather than searching for his father's acceptance. Why? Because of his genuine joy and genuine love for God and man.

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