Thursday, March 30, 2017

Why St. Francis of Assisi made me Catholic

     My last post triggered in my memory how much of a love and fascination I had with the little brother, the poor friar St. Francis of Assisi.  My fascination with this saint even began in my evangelical days.  It began when I wanted to read a G.K. Chesterton book for the first time and picked up his biography on St. Francis, which I would argue is still the best book he has written.  I had no idea some of the lore that were ascribed to this medieval saint.  He preached the gospel to the birds in the trees, he could communicate with a wolf terrorizing the local town, his donkey shedding tears upon Francis' death bed.  Also, the most mystical and fascinating fact of St. Francis is his vision and reception of the stigmata- the wounds of Christ.  As an evangelical, my mind was perplexed by all the testimonies and accounts of this humble man who gave up all things for Christ and how God blessed others through this man.

     He stuck with me though for the remainder of my Protestant days.  I had been attracted to Christians like Francis Chan and Shane Claiborne at the time, who are the time that frown on rich churches and "Comfortable Christianity".  Yet, I had heard none of these writers talk of him...  I still am shocked as to why.  He was their predecessor, and still was more radical than both of these Evangelical writers.  He should be one of their heroes.  Still, my attraction to St. Francis opened the door to hagiography and my seeking to understand the role heavenly saints play in the Church still.  The writings of Chesterton were helpful in this regard, and surprisingly also the writings of C.S. Lewis.  Even during my tour of Anglicanism did I develop what is now known to me as a devotion to St. Francis, so much so that when I was pursuing my ministry into Anglican orders I already knew that I wanted to found a parish community and name the church St. Francis of Assisi Anglican Church.

     It is clear that he is a saint that is attractive to Christians in every sect of Christianity, yet he is claimed by Catholicism.  This opened the door more for me to look at the Catholic Church.  St. Francis was indeed an open door for me to understanding the Saints in God's Church.  He helped me develop my understanding, and once I was in the Church I discovered a rich bouquet of saints who appealed to me.

Post-Catholic, two major aspects of St. Francis' life still appeal to me.

1. His pascifist approach: I am not a pascifist at all.  I do not think it is practical, yet I get drawn in by the message of peace-seekers.  St. Francis had fought in military and, similar to St. Ignatius of Loyola, got injured in the line of duty.  This is when his deep spiritual conversion began and he renounced his careers and family obligations to go live in the wild.  Francis' whole remaining life was the pursuit of God and peace.  He believed in peace so much, that he thought of a way to end the crusades: to convert the Sultan.  This is such a radical concept.  In today's world, when one is anti-war, that leads them to protest the government, to try to get soldiers to go AWOL, or publicly ridicule soldiers, burn draft records, etc.  Yet, Francis was not concerned with any of that.  He knew there were just reasons to fight in wars, yet he also knew that God didn't want his children fighting.  So what did he do?  He traveled to the Middle East, walked toward the enemy lines, got captured and demanded an audience with the Sultan.  When he met the Sultan, he did not cower his goal.  He admonished the Sultan to convert to the true religion, or face the fires of perdition.  The Sultan was so moved by the bravery and humility of St. Francis, that he welcomed him for further and friendly debate.  By the end, the Sultan was not convinced, but considered St. Francis to be a holy man and let him go.  Would anyone else who believes these things would do something so radical today?

2. Rebuild my church: Francis' mission was sparked by a message he heard from Christ- "rebuild my Church".  At first, Francis took it literally and began physically rebuilding Churches during his time in the wilderness.  Later, Francis would understand that true reform of the Church was to come through the founding of his order.  Yet, while Francis lived humble and in rags, he never felt the Church was to be completely like him.  He was able to separate the life he chose for himself, and the way the Church celebrates liturgy for example.  He said the Church should be using rich elaborite vestments and liturgical items to celebrate the Mass.  This is because of his conviction that Christ truly is King, and King's should be treated as such.

    I am thankful for St. Francis Assisi's life, and I'm sure the prayers he prayed for me.  What a truly magnificent saint in our Holy Mother Church.

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