Happy Feast of St. Francis!


Though some animosity (sibling rivalry, perhaps?) is well-documented between the Dominicans and Franciscans, historically, the two groups of mendicant friars do see themselves as brethren.  Today, Dominicans everywhere celebrate the feast of “our Father Francis,” so I would be remiss to pass up this opportunity to talk a little bit about who I believe is one of Catholicism’s Most Misunderstood Saints.

When you do an image search on Google for St. Francis, some fun stuff pops up:


Purchase this print on Etsy!

Umm… what?

It’s clear that our modern sensitivities place St. Francis in a category that can roughly be described as: rainbow-hippie-frolicking-through-the-forest-eco-friendly. It’s a nice image for the pet lover’s soul, but even the incredibly well-known story of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio doesn’t date until at least a century and half after his death.

However, if you read Bonaventure’s “Life of Saint Francis” (which predates the Wolf story by approximately 100 years), you are faced with a very different image of the saint. After his famous account of the Seraphic Vision of St. Francis, through which our beloved father received the stigmata, Bonaventure writes:

2. Now in order that the merits of the man of God might be increased,—merits that of a truth do all find their consummation in endurance,—he began to suffer from divers ailments so grievously that scarce one of his limbs was free from pain and sore suffering. At length by divers sicknesses, prolonged and continuous, he was brought unto such a point that his flesh was wasted away, and only as it were the skin clave unto his bones. While he was afflicted by such grievous bodily suffering, he would call his pangs not punishments, but sisters. And when once he was harassed more sorely than usual by sharp pains, a certain simple Brother said unto him: “Brother, pray the Lord that He deal more gently with thee, for meseemeth that His hand is laid more heavily on thee than is right.” Hearing this, the holy man groaned, and cried out, saying: “Did I not know the simple purity that is in thee, I would from henceforth have shunned thy company, for that thou hast dared to deem the divine counsels concerning me meet for blame.” And albeit he was wholly worn out by the long continuance of his grievous sickness, he cast himself on the ground, jarring his frail bones in the hard fall. And, kissing the ground, he cried: “I give Thee thanks, O Lord God, for all these my pains, and I beseech Thee, my Lord, that, if it please Thee, Thou wilt add unto them an hundredfold; for this will be most acceptable unto me if laying sorrow upon me Thou dost not spare, since the fulfilling of Thy holy will is unto me an overflowing solace.” Thus He seemed unto the Brethren like another Job, whose powers of mind increased even as his bodily weakness increased. But he himself knew long before his death when it should be, and, when the day of his departure was at hand, said unto the Brethren that he was about to put off the tabernacle of his body, even as it had been revealed unto him of Christ. — Chapter XIV, 2. (trans. Salter, 1904)

When I contemplate this image of Francis, I find something more like:



Francis had a zeal for preaching and the salvation of souls– but his end was anything but rainbows and fairies. He experienced intense suffering and darkness because of his great passion for Christ.  I do not mean to suggest that this is on conflict with the image of a man who saw God in nature, who loved all of God’s creatures and preached the Gospel through a deep love of humanity… but I just want to suggest that perhaps Francis is better understood as a wild honey-and-locusts, John-the-Baptist sort, rather than relegating this great man to the blessings of baby bunnies.
…Although admittedly, baby bunnies are friggin’ cute. 
Hewwo, I wuv you.
Happy Feast of Father Francis!!!

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