St. Francis has to be one of the most well known, and dearly beloved Saints, and for very, very good reason. While he was not great in physical stature, he was truly a giant among men. His clear, complete, and wholehearted devotion to God was a beacon for his time, and even now centuries later, he remains a light that shines through time and space to touch the hearts of the faithful even now. We get Francis, and if we are truly honest with ourselves, I think we all want to BE Francis. In our heart of hearts, I think we all want to live a life so clear, so heroic, so symbolically poignant.
Very often though, as I walk through the Catholic world, I see a very different Francis appear. He is the Francis of garden statues, talking to bird and squirrels, and ever so dear, kind and sweet. I call this, “Hippie Francis.”
I don’t mean this to make fun of the nature loving, kind hearted people of the sixties, as much as to point out that while Francis was most definitely about peace and love, he did not live out these ideals in some easy going, “I’m okay you’re okay” kind of way. Francis was intense. Mortifyingly intense. He was a whirlwind of solid principles, and those principles were not of free love, but of sacrifice, penance and prayer.
One quote that people love to hear Francis say is, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” The only problem is, he never said it. Nothing like it. Quite the opposite, he was a consummate preacher, and would not stop preaching. He made a lot of people very, very uncomfortable with his preaching. We love to quote him calling the sun and moon his brothers, but when we get to the heart of Francis, everyone seems to stop reading. For example:
All those men and women … who in their body serve the world through the desires of the flesh, the concerns of the world and the cares of this life: They are held captive by the devil, whose children they are, and whose works they do.
-“Earlier Exhortation to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance,” Francis of Assisi: Early Documents,
That’s Francis guys. If you are only concerned about this life and your own desires, you are a child of the devil. Yes, Francis was that intense. Ninety percent plus of those ridiculous, hallmark greeting card things you hear quoted to St. Francis are flat out BS. People have made up a different guy that sounds nice and non-confrontational to their lives, and attributed anything they can find that’s flowery and sweet to him.
Jesus says, “Give what you have to the poor, and come follow me”? Francis drops all he has and calls coins, “stones,” and orders his friars to not even pick it up off the ground. Francis feels lust? Francis throws himself into thorn bushes. Francis wants to fight in the Crusades? Then he stows himself onto a boat and goes straight to the Sultan. Francis wants to be a martyr for Christ, and receives the Stigmata. Francis does not mess around. He is as serious as arrow pointed at your head. There are no flowers or pachouli here.
You want a real quote that I think sums up Francis best? It’s not from Francis, but from the Little Flower, St. Therese. “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole Saint, or none at all.” Francis was a whole Saint if there ever was one.
So stop watching hippie movies of Saint Francis. Just stop it.