Today is the feast day of Saint Francis, the poor man of Assisi.
Francis founded the brotherhood now known as the Franciscans, and is widely regarded as a model of selfless Christian virtue. His commitment to radical living is respected across the traditions, but its worthy of note that very few of us are willing to follow too closely in his footsteps.
Here was a man who repented so thoroughly of his worldly ways that he gave up all of his possessions, choosing to abandon everything and rely solely on providence and charity. A difficult enough task for anyone, but consider that Francis was born into wealth and privelige, and from an early age had a reputation for being a party animal.
Francis demanded of his brothers a vow of poverty which was considered too extreme by his contemporaries, leading him to evenutally be deposed from the leadership of his own order.
His poverty wasnt tokenism either, he suffered for his choice, hard living and malnutrition leading to his becoming ill towards the end of his life (he only lived to 45), and going blind. When the pope heard of his blindness, he ordered that he should be operated on – which meant the cauterising of the eyes with red hot pokers – nice.
So Francis models radical devotion, selfless and without personal consideration. He reminds us that it is not the self publicists and the powerful who can have great influence for good. He reminds us that Christianity means suffering, that none of us are exempt from hardship because of virtue.
No wonder so few of us want to model any part of our lives on his, but love to talk glowingly of him as one of our favourite saints.
Just a note by the way – Francis was originally Christened Giovanni – which is ‘John’ after the Baptiser – his father demanded he be renamed Francesco and should become a businessman and dandy. It was only when he broke with his father’s expectations that he reclaimed the mantle of the itinerant prophet clad only in rags.
Francis too is remembered for his love of, and respect for, all nature. He has much to teach any of us who make pretentsion to care for the environment and the garden in which we live.
A truly important figure in the ongoing story which we are part of – and one on whom we need to turn more of our attention.