Published in Church and Life (1842) 18.10.2012 – 6.11.2012 No 16
St Francis of Assisi
St. Francis (1181 – 1226) lived about 800 years ago but he lived in a world which was very similar to ours. He faced consumerism, racism, militarism, individualism, and corporate power. You might think that this refers to today but history does repeat itself and this is what Francis saw in Italy in those days. His own father, a rich man, was taking advantage of bankrupt people who were losing their land by grabbing as much land as he could. The church of the day was largely out of touch with reality and the people.
We hear the word “postmodern” and do not know what it means. As today, so in the time of St. Francis, it means that instead of turning to God and others, people tend to think that nothing is truly knowable, that life is just what society makes it, what the mind creates. People tend to think that what is true today will change by better knowledge tomorrow.
As strange as it may seem the “postmodern” person firmly believes that he or she actually knows more than anyone else. They claim that there are no absolutes, no patterns which are always true. This creates a person who is both “godlike”, because they know everything, and ultimately cynical, believing that they must create their own “truth” because there are no universal patterns. This leads to the fact that they believe that there is no God and that the church is completely out of touch. It really is no wonder why we hear so much about depression and suicide.
What I have just said is very true today but 800 years ago it was also true and probably so in other times in history as well. So what did St. Francis do about it? How did he decide to change the world? We should study him more, especially today, because his influence is still current today. Just study his life!
St. Francis being the rich, worldly man that he was, returned completely to Jesus Christ through poverty and prayer. He returned to the ultimate realities. He developed a profound prayer life in order to discover what God was actually saying to the world. He also returned to the handiwork of God – creation. He did not follow the then popular views on nature; he wanted to know how God created it and ordered it. He is known today as the ultimate ecologist. He grew to respect nature totally.
Finally, St. Francis studied society in which he lived and called it the “community of those who suffered” to understand how God chooses to change us. He believed that God confronts us, accepts us, and forgives us. God to him was very real. God gives us fullness and truth. Francis was not that taken up with human ideals, but rather, the actual state of our relationship with the ultimate realities.
He then sought to imitate Jesus and this in simplicity and poverty. St. Francis rejected the egotistic “I” and said that the real “I” was only to be discovered through prayer. He said that the answer to confusion and paralysis is always a return to simplicity, to the actual right in your face obvious reality. The truth he believed in was so simple that it was hard to see. Tell me, he was wrong. We have so much to learn from him.