St. Francis, Pope Francis, and The Synod
By The Hermits, Oct 5 2015 08:53PM
Quite whether the Holy Father intended that the Synod would start on the feast of St. Francis or not, I do not know, but hopefully he did, and hopefully it would make him reflect on what is happening to himself, the Papacy, the Church and the World. Pope Francis, who has a charming and attractive character (It is extraordinary that he was known in Argentina the Bishop who never smiled) which manifests itself in the compassionate gesture, which at times is in stark contrast to the intended symbolism, such as washing the feet of women prisoners on Maundy Thursday. The washing of the feet was done by Christ to his chosen apostles and was intended to remind them of the humility of God to which they were to aspire. It was after all two women who washed Christ’s feet, the first the woman, who was a sinner, and the second, Mary of Bethany. However muddled thinking is the norm these days, it would seem. Having done away with much that was symbolic in the Mass and the sacraments, we are now having to invent rather trite symbols, which neither attract, persuade, of have any beauty about them.
St. Francis was a man simply overwhelmed with the symbolic. If he saw a lamb he thought of Christ, if he saw a stone he thought of God. He saw the larks as his sisters, and the most important sister was of course Sister Moon. The Sun was his brother and death was another sister, a somewhat doom laden on,e if one was not in a state of grace; almost even a bit like Kali. He saw his friars as a new form of knight, but also like Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. He also saw himself as a mother who had born all the brothers, and his attachment to the Courtly Love code meant that one should keep one’s eyes downcast when talking to a lady. I think St. Clare found it all a bit difficult, and Francis had to be almost forced to go and visit her. He allowed the Lady Jacoba da Settesoli, a noble Roman widow, to break the enclosure because she was a sort of honorary man.
Now on one level there is almost a contemporary feel to all this. Peoples’ sexes are muddled up, same sex marriages, cloning and goodness knows what. But all this muddling of the important things in life is dark, deadly and destructive, because it is inward looking. Francis was always outward looking, and everything had to reflect Christ or remind him of Christ.
It is not surprising that Carmelite spirituality is (whatever that is. The early Carmelites were hermits living on Mount Carmel, and then when they came to Europe and saw the massively successful Franciscans and Dominicans, they wanted to be like them. It seems dangerously close to a sort of spiritual envy!) wordless and imageless to some extent, or at least John of the Cross is. Ignatian spirituality is highly analytical, and the exercises are too much for me, whereas Francis is always contemplating the Cross, and wanting to imitate Christ in his life. Francis being a literalist, some times did things in a very literal way. He also, though he did not disapprove of the Crusades, felt that he must convert the Moslems, and so sallied forth to meet the Sultan, who was charmed, and did not kill the Poor little Man of Assisi.
The 20th and 21st centuries have sentimentalized Francis, and no-one did it better than Zefferell, in Brother Sun Sister Moon, who made poverty look Chic according to the New York Times critic of the film when it was reviewed in 1973. It was certainly influenced by the whole Hippy Movement. Francis, like his master Jesus, has been forced into so many different roles that one despairs of getting close to the real man. Though Communists have tried to make Jesus into a South American freedom fighter, and have used Che’s face to illuminate Christ’s, they have never managed to do that with Francis.
Francis’s genius was to make everyone and everything a brother and sister of Christ. This was not the ideology of The American Declaration of Independence , namely that:
. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"
Quite why Pope Francis had to use this disastrous quote in his speech to Congress one cannot think. Whatever St. Francis had in mind it was nothing so utterly smacking of Enlightenment Philosophy as this. Christ did not come to bring us human happiness, he came to call us to Eternal Bliss, far more wonderful than any human happiness, and St. Francis knew that this could only be done by following Christ totally, by imitating him. His love of poverty was not what a lot of people thing it is. It is not rushing around getting involved in Liberation Theology, or going on about living with the poor; nothing could have been further from his mind. He saw in the lepers and the poor, more brothers and sisters to love, and the best way to do this was by being utterly poor and relying on Divine Providence, allowing God the Father to provide for all our needs.
It was when St. Francis was preaching to the birds that the people asked to follow him, and so he came up with the idea of the Third Order, which has given so many wonderful saints to the Church, including St. Louis of France, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Margaret of Cortona, the repentant mistress of a nobleman, the virginal husband and wife St. Elzear and Blessed Delphina of Sabran, St. Benedict Joseph Larbre, and a multitude of others. What were they meant to do, dress simply in woollen garments, pray, do good works, and not take up arms? Of course none other than that greatest of kings. St. Louis, wrecked the whole thing by asking if he could take up arms against the Moslem. What Pope Francis could do is re-instate that prohibition; now that would be wonderful!
Everything today in the West is scene in terms of sex. Every relationship, poisoned by Freud’s obsession with sex, has been deemed sexual. Innocence has fled because of this dark deed of the father of modern psychology. However St. Francis offers the remedy. If we start seeing everyone as a brother and sister, then a joyful reverence, and a wondering intimacy, and a holy courtesy becomes the order of the day.
Pope Francis would do well to ponder the childlike wonder and innocence of God so well described by Chesterton, a true brother of the Poverello, in his peerless life of the great Saint.
The transition from the good man to the saint is a sort of revolution, by which one for whom all things illustrate and illuminate God becomes one for whom God illustrates and illuminates all things. It is rather like the reversal whereby a lover might say at first sight that a lady looked like a flower, and say afterwards that all flowers reminded him of his lady.
Until our evilly sexualised men and women of the West tumble to this truth, the sexual depravity of the age will get worse, and worse, and more and more violent. Men and women must again become like children and like Brother Juniper, one of the most wonderful of St. Francis’ early companions, go off and seesaw with the children, not as an adult but as one of them. We must learn again to play.
God willing the Fathers of the synod might just think along those lines, because if they don’, we are all in for a very rough ride indeed, and I dread to think how many souls might be lost by those sophisticated Fathers, who like the World to much and want to imitate it rather than imitate Christ.