Dream word – WISDOM
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” NKJV
Problems from the perplexing king of frolic
Not many people know this but I am in fact a male model. It’s quite a few years ago now but a great artist friend of mine, once asked me to pose as St Francis of Assisi for a wall mural she had been commissioned to paint. “I wanted someone who could look spiritual, insane and emaciated all at the same time,” she said. I was most definitely the man for the job.
I am reminded of this today as I have just come from a day’s retreat where the life of this saint was unfolded before us. Throughout the last eight centuries the intriguing nature of Francis has never ceased to attract further examination and the end of the age, he is proving increasingly popular in terms of ecumenism, ecology, animal rights, and a varied array of “skewiff” spirituality. But really, is there anything more we might learn from Saint Francis of Assisi?
Born in Italy in 1182 and named by his French mother as Giovanni, his father returning late from a trading trip renamed him Frances, after his love of all things French! A much over indulged child, the “king of frolic” joined the troubadours, partied down and partied on, fully financed by his wealthy parents in the so doing, growing increasingly strong willed as he went. Excessive, proud and boastful, he was never the less taken into captivity for nearly a year when an attempt at soldiering led to disaster. His mother had no doubt pumped him up about his future religious greatness, which I feel led to many of his private aspirations and dreams. These, coupled with the deep thoughts about his future, deep thoughts that only a forced incarceration can conjure up, no doubt began to unfurl the future sails of this very unhinged ascetic mystic.
The little poor man, was permanently estranged from his earthly father over the selling of stolen goods, his father’s goods that is! Through his whole life, Francis remained irreconcilable to his rich father. This was chiefly because of Francis’s most public rejection of his father’s all too late discipline. His constant provision and material goodness begged for an acknowledge honour from his oh so spoiled son but unfortunately, it never came.
Emotional and excessive eccentrics have always gathered a crowd and St Francis was no different. His visions of speaking crucifixes, dreams of sacrificial seraphs sending bolts of lightning blessings upon him, his increasingly and eccentric public displays and overt clashes with rising capitalism, especially manifested amongst the clergy, led him to become a fascinating and living artefact in the church, a speaking stone in its tight fitting shoes, a distraction maybe and in the right political hands, maybe even a great and profitable tool. Once Francis became the first recorded case of church accepted, true stigmata, I wonder if it was in this that his eventual fate was sealed. For despite his marriage to Lady Poverty it did it stop, especially in later days, penitential gifts of property being made to the newly founded orders, especially that of “Poor Clare”.
The church seemed to somewhat smile on the giving away of goods, even church goods, even goods gained by Crusades and Indulgence, but it did not smile in the giving away of property, for property is power and any goods held by any order are in fact goods held by the Pope. Innocence III made Ugolino his “protective Bishop” in these matters in particular, and it was this same “mystic minder” who later became Pope Gregory IX, who also made Francis a Saint. After this, the money just came rolling in friends, it just came rolling in. Unless you think this was not a big deal, know that in later days, anyone disagreeing with the real estate property rights of the Pope were deemed heretics, handed over to the inquisition and burned at the stake. Franciscan or otherwise.
St Francis himself, suffering from infections and blinding trachoma, ostiomalacia (rickets) through bad diet, probably died of a chronic parasitic disease called schistosomiasis. His stigmata made him famous and profitable for the church, but his self induced poverty killed him. Is there anything we can learn from Saint Francis of Assisi? Yes, I think there are many things and tonight let us consider but five of them.
• First, that God can use lunatics - especially if they are undaunted in their actions and dedicated to their task.
• Secondly, that political powers use lunatics, especially when there is profit in the so doing. Especially if its property profits.
• Thirdly, that people follow lunatics, even to great excess, especially if there is seeming spiritual profit in the so doing and spiritual peer prowess in the practice. You know, the given admiration of others.
• Fourthly, that good hygiene and good nutrition, though important to healthy living, and balanced ministry, will not keep you alive forever. Be sure then you are living with all your might for the things you believe in with all your heart. Eat well! For you just might minister longer and minister better.
• Lastly, the powerful and consistent, seen and sacrificial dedication of such servants of God, though not good rules to base our lives upon, are never the less, glaring ultraviolet beams of shining and deep scanning revelation, revealing the pox marks on our own half hearted and over indulgent souls.
Be balanced. Don’t be used and abused. Live well. Love better.
Listen: “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’ But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Mark 10:21-22 NKJV
Pray: Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.
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