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Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Francis We Never Knew

September 5, 2012

The Francis We Never Knew: Surprising Revelations About the Man >From Assisi

It would be a pardonable offense were one to greet the prospect of yet another book on St. Francis with a yawn. But in the case of Augustine Thompson’s Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (Cornell, 2012), it would be a mistake. All of us know something about St. Francis, but few of us know the truth. Father Thompson delivers it.

“In his final words to his followers, the issue he found most pressing was not poverty, not obedience, but proper reverence for the Eucharist.” Imagine summing up Saint Francis of Assisi by pointing to his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Yet this is not all we learn from Father Thompson, O.P. In the course of putting to rest various myths about his subject, he tells us surprising truths: for instance, Francis expected his followers to work with their hands rather than to impose upon others by their begging. Francis was more incensed by dirty altar linens and chalices than mistreatment of the poor or breaches of the peace. And Francis, far from being a Deep Ecologist, “was emphatically not a vegetarian.”

If he was not the man we thought him to be, or the man of those with agendas, then what was he? A man who with dogged determination tried to put the words of the Gospel into practice; a man so transformed by grace, that when the barbaric thirteenth-century physician approached his diseased eyes with a red-hot brand, thinking to cure them by cauterizing the flesh of his face, Francis, far from flinching, made the sign of the Cross over the iron and said: “My Brother Fire, noble and useful among all the creatures the Most High created, be courtly to me in this hour. For a long time I have loved you and I still love you for the love of that Lord who created you. I pray our Creator who made you, to temper your heat now, so that I may bear it.” (...)

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