Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of Date, 2002
Book provides fuller look at St. Francis
Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life by Adrian House, Hidden Spring Publications, 2001. 352 pages.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Special to the WCR
It is an interesting period of history. The Church appears to be in turmoil. Some of the clergy have been accused of laxity and inappropriate behaviours. The Christians and the Muslims are at war over beliefs and politics. The laity have fallen into apathy and a new evangelization is definitely necessary. Who will lead this revival? Will anybody listen?
This could be a description of the world today but in fact it describes the world of a thousand years ago at the end of the first millennium of Christianity. The Church was a large and influential institution that held great sway in the political and economic arenas. While there were pockets of spiritual living, on the whole, the people lived on pious practices that had little meaning to them and the Church was in turmoil.
Two men rose to lead the Church into a period of great evangelization and renewal: St. Dominic in Spain and southern France, and St. Francis in Italy and later into France and Germany. Dominic's order, the Order of Preachers, became a leading order of itinerant preachers and educators. Francis founded the Friars Minor, an order dedicated to living the Gospel values of love, poverty and faith, which spread quickly throughout Italy.
My first encounter with the story of St. Francis of Assisi was in 1976. The Franco Zeffirelli movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon was shown to provide my Grade 11 class with a model of faith. The movie provided a rather interesting, and simplistic look at Francis, his conversion, and his relationship with Innocent III.
St. Clare, who later founded an order of sisters based on the Rule of Francis, was an integral part of that depiction which I later learned was not that accurate.
Since that movie I have encountered Francis quite regularly in my education and spirituality. Francis has become the patron saint of the environmental movement and an important part of Catholic schools' religious education and ecology curriculums.
Franciscan priests at Newman College speak highly and strongly of the role of Francis as their spiritual father. I have been to Assisi three times and spent time in the church where he is buried. I have watched a rather poor movie on the life of Francis in Francesco and read a few brief accounts of the life of the saint but I really did not know much about his life beyond the popular stories.
Francis of Assisi by Adrian House was the first real attempt I have made at delving deeper than the popular stories and looking at the life of this most famous saint from an academic point of view. House attempts to remove much of the hagiography and, using sources from the era and that immediately following Francis' death, tries to trace the life of Francis starting with his parents to the period immediately following his death.
House makes no comment on Francis' beliefs except those relevant to the charisma of his preaching and the simplicity of his message of love and poverty. At a time when the Church yielded considerable influence in worldly affairs, his message was not always one that the Church and those in positions of authorities shared and they often felt challenged by his call to simplicity and prayer.
House clearly claims that to understand his life, one must comprehend his teachings. Francis called all to a life of spiritual quest and simplicity. Money, wealth, property all could lead to spiritual blindness and false idolatry. Francis ignored social convention and political game playing. He accepted all people as equal as God does and is demonstrated by Jesus in the Scriptures. Social outcasts, the poor, the sick and especially the lepers, became for Francis the face of God.
House's reading of the earliest biographies of Francis provide the reader with a fascinating account of the life of the saint. The attempt by Francis to mediate with the Saracens after the defeat of the Christians in Egypt and his encounter with the Sultan is an exciting read and House captures the importance of this event in terms of reconciliation and Gospel love.
I truly enjoyed this account and it has spurred me to delve deeper into the writings by and about this great saint.
(Dean Sarnecki lives and evangelizes in Sherwood Park at Archbishop Jordan Catholic High School and with whomever is open to the word of God.)