Thursday, May 19, 2011

Saint Francis for everyone

Francis di Bernadone, also known as "Francis of Assisi," is one of a tiny fraction of humanity who lives outside of time. It is not just that his name keeps popping up in historical and religious documents. Every day people who hear his story or read his words suddenly find their lives remarkably changed.

His life story is a tapestry of an incredible age—knights in shining armor, beautiful Princesses in castle towers, the clash of swords in the bloody sands of the Holy Land, Gregorian chants echoing through towering monastic corridors and the opulent ceremonies of kings and popes. His world has become the setting for both our brightest fantasies and our darkest nightmares.

Francis lived life more fully than most people expect. He basked in great wealth, rumbled with gangs in the streets of Assisi, and fought battles, first with the sword of a knight, and later with the gospels, facing alone the Saracen warlord in a single-handed attempt to end the Crusades. His journey to faith was passionate and dramatic. It is doubtful that anyone has ever sought a personal relationship with Christ as intensely as did Francis. Prayer for him was no mere religious practice but a joyful communion with God.

Francis is a Saint, revered in the Catholic Church. For many, that makes him irrelevant to the broader body of Christians and to the world in general. It is important to realize, however, that Christians in the year 1200 were all Catholics. There were no Presbyterians, Baptists, or AME. If you were a Christian born in 1182, you were Catholic.

His teachings were, in fact, very much out of step with current religious practices. While bishops, cardinals and popes often lived in palaces, he pursued a life of poverty. He believed that owning "things" imposes a kind of slavery whereby we are forced to maintain and accumulate more of those things, a pattern that squeezes God out of our lives. Francis and his followers lived in huts and lean-tos, and stayed in homes for lepers. Humility was not a typical attribute of church leaders at that time, but it was a cornerstone of the "Poverello's" teaching. He persistently avoided or ignored the praises of his colleagues and followers.

Yet, in spite of his unorthodox teachings, he brought new life to a spiritually barren world in what many have called the "greatest spiritual revival in history." Knowing the harsh rigors of his lifestyle, people nevertheless flocked into his order, some giving up great wealth, power and fame, to gain something they believed to be of infinitely greater value. You will find much that you wouldn't expect in the pages of this book and perhaps be moved to look at the world in a totally new light.