Thursday, October 4, 2018

How NOT To Honor St Francis Of Assisi

Today is his feast day.  St Francis is the founder of the orders that bear his name and by extension, the other orders that are the offshoots of those.  I link now to an article detailing the saint's life; of course there are more on the internet as well as countless books besides.  I'd urge careful, thoughtful study of these: first, to learn what his role in the Church was and second, to diffuse some of the pseudo-pious legends and sayings surrounding him.  The latter might be born of enthusiasm and admiration for him, but all too often the enthusiasm sheds boundaries of reason and actually wind up trivializing the saint's life.  I will now delve into some common gaffes:
  • "He's the greatest imitator of Christ who ever lived".  I recently saw this on the internet, but it is by no means the first.  Here's the problem: a rather serious one.  The word "greatest" is an adjective of comparison.  If that statement were true, we must also admit its converse: "All other imitators of Christ are inferior to St Francis".  Whoever conceives these statements therefore sits in judgment over the sanctity of every Christian who ever lived.  That's extremely presumptuous at best.  Only God Himself is in a position to make any sort of declaration like this.  The following is similar.
  • "St Francis is the most saintly of the Italians, and the most Italian of all the saints."  I suppose the first part of this canard is less innocuous than the one in the first bullet, for at least its originator sits in judgment of only those of Italian descent and not the whole of humanity.  The second part of this thing invokes some rather silly and shallow stereotypes of Italians.  I suppose it has to do with popular notions of Italians being spontaneous and effusive in their gestures and vocal inflections, often given to displays of emotions.  Surely these stereotypes have nothing to do with the more low-key, scholarly saints like Thomas Aquinas..oh, wait!  Last time I checked, St Thomas Aquinas was an Italian!
  • "St Francis of the bird bath"  I don't see these so much now, but at one time they abounded.  This probably has to do with the incident of him preaching to birds, and they flocked to hear him.  This is one notion that has as an effect (hopefully unintentional) of trivializing him into a mere nature-lover.  The next and last one has no veneer of piety whatsoever and no faithful Catholic would be caught dead dabbling in this.
  • "St. Francis the envirowhacko".  I wish I was making this up.  The environmentalists among us have arrogated to themselves St. Francis' name to legitimize their environmental idolatry, with all its anti-life underpinnings.  Take a gander of the job that the "Catholic Climate Covenant" has done with Franciscan imagery, being so arrogant as to call their pledge to idolatry the "St Francis pledge".
If St. Francis had to do any purgatorial pit-stop after his death, I'd be willing to bet that knowledge of the aforementioned lapses of intelligence in his name would have been part and parcel of his mortification.  Let us ask his intercession, and that of all Franciscan saints, that our Church be restored to fidelity to Christ's immutable teachings and leave behind the fantasies of the "god of surprises".

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