Monday, October 7, 2013

Reflections: Saint and Pope

I wonder if some of us American Catholics are going to lose our fondness for St. Francis during this pontificate. So many bloggers and Catholic media personalities are tending toward the "I love him but.." line regarding Pope Francis, that I think we're going to discover just how much we don't actually love the Franciscan spirit when it's lived out right before our eyes. I know I often don't.  St. Francis was God's fool, and that foolish, full-hearted sort of love is terrifying, challenging, overwhelming; it leads us, like St. Francis himself, to strip naked before the whole world and fling ourselves as babes into the arms of God.  Francis embraced martyrdom, poverty, pain, and misunderstanding in an attempt to walk after Christ as a living icon.

 "[Francis] is great because he is everything. He is a man who wants to do things, wants to build, he founded an order and its rules, he is an itinerant and a missionary, a poet and a prophet, he is mystical. He found evil in himself and rooted it out. He loved nature, animals, the blade of grass on the lawn and the birds flying in the sky. But above all her loved people, children, old people, women. He is the most shining example of ..agape"*

Like Francis, this pope is making himself comfortable naked before God and man. He's not trying to show anything, I think, so much as he's simply being himself before God, and God's poor sinner before man. He's decided that he fears being misunderstood and misrepresented less than he fears that each person he interacts with will not see the love of God in him. And so he embraces everyone with that holy promiscuity Francis himself was know for. Every person, not every thing. And the distinction is always there for him. Pope Francis does not seem careful in his words in the thoughtful way a Thomas More, a Thomas Aquinas, or a Benedict XVI might be, his words are careful of their own free will, because they come from a soul already defined, and they are careless because he's chosen to allow them to be. Because this is his calling: to rebuild the Church, not as merely the guardian of morals, but as the true home of each and every soul. And we are a world that misreads careful words as cold and unloving. We need a chance to come home first - to be like that poor, wild boy in the parable, who's father ask questions another day; after the party, after the joyful embrace, after he's fed his starving boy, bathed him, clothed him, and loved him back into safety. 

 "I will show the way, He said. Follow Me and you will find the Father and you will all be his children and he will take delight in you. Agape, the love of each of us for the other, from the closest to the furthest, is in fact the only way that Jesus has given us to find the way of Salvation and of the Beatitudes."*

I am often uncomfortable with those formed by St. Francis. I'm torn between the desire to imitated and the knowledge that this is not my call, not my charism. But I love the squirming sense it gives me, that love really is the answer. And that love doesn't require niceness so much as holiness. And all of us, from the crustiest old imitators of Padre Pio, to the all embracing daughters of Mary Magdalene are called to be holy.

* both quotations are from Pope Francis' interview with Eugenio Scalfari



  1. Beautifully said, M! The Franciscan way is not my charism, either. I'm much more scholarly . . . which makes my intense love of and for poetry inexplicable . . . but saints come in all shapes and sizes. Padre Pio is a wondrous example of someone whose holiness was so sharp and refined that he could be mistake for cruel. While Francis, the humble non-priest, had a careless, drunken holiness. It's so beautiful to me how there's room for all types, and how saints are diverse as the constellations, while evil men are all miserable and the same!

    1. Thanks! There are a lot of scholars in Franciscan spirituality though, that you can check out...though I don't know if it'll help. I see you somewhere else - Benedictine???? You're description of Francis' 'drunken holiness' is perfect though! And I think that's why I love it, but fear it, because that's a lot of control to give over to God. I've never liked Parde Pio..he is definitely not my charism ;) But thank God for diversity, right! Otherwise we wouldn't have holy terrors like him and Jerome..and boring old men like Thomas More ;)

    2. Loved this piece!

      That point about diversity is a lot of what I was going to say. I never get upset about all the furor over Pope Francis' comments (except to sputter snidenesses about Rita Skeeter) until someone compares him to Benedict XVI, usually to the latter's disadvantage. And then, out come the claws. Benedict XVI strikes me as incredibly humble and incredibly misunderstood, and people are real jerks about their misunderstanding of him. But I sometimes get annoyed when people treat Benedict as All That and Francis as a Problem, too, because... hey, much as I sometimes miss Benedict's artistic and symbolic sense, I really love the fact that Catholicism encourages a variety of spiritualities. Protestants sometimes draw hard church separations along lines like that, and it's a terrible weakness.

      I love both St. Francis and Pope Francis, both of them for their extreme sincerity and humility and for the warm-hearted way they open their arms to human need and (in St. Francis' case, at least) to nature. There is something of that in my charism, I think. If I'm not entirely Franciscan (and my main acquaintance with the Saint is through Chesterton's biography, which made me cry lots of good tears), I'm at least one of Therese's little flowers, and her impulse toward charity seems to come from a similar place.

      Padre Pio terrifies me. ;)

  2. It is perfectly acceptable to approach the Franciscan charism in a scholarly fashion. Bl. Duns Scotus is a wonderful example of scholarly Franciscan thought. I agree with your thoughts about Pope Francis, Em. Excellent piece.

    -Mike McD

    1. Thanks Mike!!! And you're right, Scotus is a great example! I'm so glad you found me!