Deep breaths. Deep breaths. WOO-SAAAA!
Lately I feel like the Holy Spirit is always right behind me with a goofy grin warming up and taking a few practice swings with the cast-iron skillet so that, as soon as I turn, WHAMMO!
Your son tells you he told his BSF preschool class that he talks to Pope Francis about God, WHAMMO!
The Pope’s interview comes out, WHAMMO!
A piece comes on the BBC about St Francis of Assisi this past Sunday just as I’m getting ready to get up and go to mass, WHAMMO! (By the way, listen to this! )
I feel my blood pressure rise with every new blog post and the hysterics that are evident there on the Pope’s interviews, WHAMMO!
I made my first Confession and my First Holy Communion at a parish named for St Francis of Assisi. He was an easy favorite saint. In those days we made a big deal about ecology and how he loved the animals. Hey, what can I say, it was the dirty 80’s.
When it was announced that Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the new pope and had chosen the name Francis, many jumped to assume that because Bergoglio was a Jesuit, it must mean he was after St Francis Xavier. And then he wasn’t wearing red shoes. And then there was some nonsense about puppet masses. But that very first misunderstanding came from the name he chose.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan told the story of how when asked what name he chose, Cardinal Bergoglio immediately said, “Francis. In honor of St Francis of Assisi.”
Pope Francis himself told how after he was elected a brother Cardinal said to him, “Remember the poor.” That statement immediately resonated with the Holy Father and made him think of Francis of Assisi.
I don’t have to tell you the mainstream media by and large has it all wrong. That they are focusing on Francis’ emphasis on conversion based upon and love and spinning it to mean total tolerance of sin. And if you have prayed before reading Pope Francis’ words, it becomes clear how the Spirit is guiding him. And should be guiding us.
In light of Pope Francis’ interview in America, Erin Manning offered this sage advice, “Don’t panic.” And her reason behind this? “As I said, Pope Francis is challenging us in the West to quit playing that game and start acting like actual Christians. We don’t need to panic; it’s the same thing Christ asks of us every single day.”
Erin brings up a very interesting point. Pope Francis is not asking more of us than the Christ did. He is not asking us to condone sin or accept it, he is, however, reminding us that we are to love the sinner.
But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5: 44-48
And that leads me back to the BBC feature in which the journalist remarks that St Francis of Assisi is the saint most identified with trying to live like Christ lived. Yeah, that one smacked me pretty hard. Pope Francis chose the name of the saint most associated with trying to live the life of Christ.
St Francis of Assisi, the Holy Spirit has been showing me, is one of the most misunderstood saints in the catalog. The prayer most associated with him, was not written by him and incorrectly attributed to him long before the days of the internet. And most people only know a man in statue with a bird on his shoulder (full disclosure, that statue is at the head of my late beagle’s grave in our backyard).
But who remembers he went to Egypt and attempted to convert a muslim Sultan. And while the conversion failed, the Sultan somewhat miraculously let him go and ordered his men not to harm Francis. Wait, what? He dialogued with people of other faiths?
He did as Jesus commanded and gave up all he owned for the Kingdom of Heaven.
He lowered himself to care for lepers. People who were cast out. Cast aside. Deemed the least of humanity.
He was a reluctant revolutionary. He didn’t want the attention, he attempted to cast it aside.
To, quote the BBC journalist, “he turned the world on its head.”
And when he stood in front of a dilapidated church he heard from the Crucifix, “Francis, Go and repair my church. ” And while that particular building was in terrible need of repair, the Church on earth is full of sinful humans and must be in a constant state of repair. And Francis’ life of poverty and his devotion to Christ certainly went a long way in that repair. He made people feel uncomfortable and upset. He threw some chaos in where it was needed. He made us remember that God doesn’t always need or want us to feel warm and fuzzy about our faith. Oh no, sometimes He is asking us to do what we fear most. And He is asking us to trust Him above all.
It’s that side of St Francis of Assisi that I NEVER once heard about while I was at that Catholic church that bore his name. It’s the side that more liberal adherents to the faith play down. Or ignore.
And if that’s starting to sound familiar, well, it should. Pope Francis chose a name that honored one of our greatest saints. A saint that was radical in many ways and who, in the process of repairing the Church and world, turned it on its head. A saint whose life has been abused by those who want only to see what they wish to see through lenses of sin and secularism. But for some, some who only had those lenses before, their hearts, their minds were changed. Forever. For better. Pope Francis chose the name of one of the most wildly misunderstood saints in the Catholic faith. There are no coincidences. There is only the Holy Spirit. And His cast-iron skillet.
For more on St Francis of Assisi: