The Real Francis.

As we approach his feast day, I wonder if we are any closer to knowing the true St Francis than we are the real Jesus? At Saint Miriam, we try to avoid what is often called ‘birdbath Franciscanism’.  You know, the sweet, sappy stuff of a man leaving his wealthy family and abandoning not only his fancy clothes and status, but the world, too, to live in a harmless brown habit and make friends with the animals in some idyllic countryside setting. It is a story line that draws many into read more, but alas, one that is often untrue and lacks the substance of what it is to be a true follower of the saint we know as Francis.

St. Francis is so often idealized; he is made into an almost cartoonish character made ripe for hippies and those who seek a carefree life away from a complex world. But the vignette that has become Francis is far from what is it is live out his ideals; it is unreal at its deepest self. I can tell you as a Friar, it is not easy to be what Francis was, nor is it easy to follow him today.

Francis lived in two worlds: he looked always toward heaven, but his feet were firmly planted on the earth where his work was needed. He was grounded where the Church did what it did, but he knew there was something more and so he reached always toward God with a thirst that few could contain. He lived out the gospel life; one that was hard and dusty and often unsure of its destination in this life but was solid in where it would lead in the next. One that changed the world but was not the stuff of fairy tales or for the weak hearted or those who wished to simply play with Franciscanism. Francis knew that the even the holy Mother Church needed to change and return to a path closer to the true road of Gospel of the Christ he loved and adored.

Christian Wiman once said, “Faith itself sometimes needs to be stripped of its social and historical encrustations and returned to its first, churchless incarnation in the human heart.”  This is what Francis strived for: the core values of a gospel-centered life, an honest experience of the life of Jesus lived out in the world in a way that would change it for the better. He knew what we all must learn: one must die every day into your own life in order to truly find a way to live.

We must love our life enough to lose it, and then, after having found the reality of joyfully losing it, we find the heart of the gospel…one that changes the world and recognizes that all of life is one continuous movement that begins and ends with our creator.

In all my years now, I have never found anything that fills my life more than my priesthood. It is also the one thing that I often cry about and ask to be removed so often. Then, evening and morning comes and God, too, and Francis sings a new song. Then, I get back to the work God has for me to do. After all, I know no other way.




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