The two Francises

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

Six months on and it is now all-Francis, all-the-time — a blockbuster interview here, a summit of cardinal consultors there, and a star turn tomorrow when the Holy Father visits Assisi and the tomb of Saint Francis himself.

Back in March, the utter novelty of a freely-embraced papal abdication was thought, perhaps, to be an occasion for rebalancing the papal presence in the world, away from the incumbent pontiff and toward the office of Peter in the Church.  That didn't happen.

Six months on and it is now all-Francis, all-the-time — a blockbuster interview here, a summit of cardinal consultors there, and a star turn tomorrow when the Holy Father visits Assisi and the tomb of Saint Francis himself.  And that is just this week.

All-Francis, all-the-time has been trying for some, exhilarating for many and, speaking for myself, provided a great sense of possibility and adventure.  That's because all-Francis, all-the-time means the world is being insistently invited to encounter God anew, for Francis preaches all-Jesus, all-the-time with great simplicity and attractiveness.

That Francis, the bishop of Rome, would prove to be popular with those who are otherwise indifferent to, or even enemies of, the Catholic Church is fitting.  Francis, the saint of Assisi, is one of the giants of Christian history, and has a following amongst those who have no time for Christianity.  When Pope Francis visits Assisi tomorrow, he will no doubt hold up the saint the world admires, and invite the same world to see the real Francis.

"The modern world finds in St. Francis a certain modern difficulty, which can admire him yet hardly accept him, or which can appreciate the saint without the sanctity," wrote G.K. Chesterton in his marvellous biography of the poor man of Assisi.

St. Francis was a man so captured by the love of God and the experience of his mercy that he found — as men in love do — extreme gestures to be fitting expressions of his heart.  So his poverty was absolute, his penances rigorous, his purity defended vigorously, his prayer prolonged, his piety intense and his passion for reform uncompromising.  St. Francis was a radical Christian disciple, the sort that makes his fellow disciples uncomfortable and the secular world think him crazy.  It is easier to think of him as the bird bath saint, a decoration for the garden, at home among the animals.


The same attitude is at work with Pope Francis, as if he, like the saint, can be domesticated, considered a mere social activist accompanied by a merry band of singing minstrels.  But St. Francis is not some sort of West Coast cross between David Suzuki and David Foster, and neither is the pope who took his name.  To have met Francis in Assisi would have been like encountering, well, Elijah, or John the Baptist, or, more to the point, Jesus.  They disturbed people, which is why they were persecuted by princes and the people. If the world does not find what Pope Francis has to say in Assisi — on care for the poor, on closing ourselves up within a satisfied, complacent life, on asking for mercy because we are sinners — disturbing, it is not paying attention.

That's because all-Francis, all-the-time means the world is being insistently invited to encounter God anew, for Francis preaches all-Jesus, all-the-time with great simplicity and attractiveness.

Last week in my parish we had a funeral for a Franciscan priest, a son of St. Francis and a son of Wolfe Island.  Praying before his body, clad in the simple brown habit first worn by St. Francis, I could not help but think of the famous Canticle of the Sun of St. Francis which, by tradition, was sung by the friars gathered around St. Francis as he died.  The world thinks of the canticle — sometimes considered to be the first literary work in the Italian language — as a composition of the two Davids, a syrupy, sentimental, pantheistic ode to brother sun and sister moon, mother earth and the wind and the fire.  In the face of death, neither the Christian faith nor St. Francis was syrupy or sentimental.  And so the canticle continues:

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister bodily Death
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do them no harm.
That's the truth Francis lived in Assisi, and the truth that the Holy Father will proclaim when he venerates the saint's tomb tomorrow.  Pope Francis has a full day, planning to give six speeches, and perhaps an impromptu interview along the way.  He will lead all the newscasts in the evening, and make all the front pages the next day.  But the world does not need another beloved celebrity.  It does not need the two Davids;  it needs the two Francises.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "The two Francises." National Post, (Canada) October 3, 2013.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2013 National Post




Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter

 

 

Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.