Today is St. Francis of Assisi’s Feast Day, so it seems fitting that I share some thoughts on this humble servant of the Lord whose likeness adorns many outdoor gardens and natural sanctuaries. St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology, tops my list of favorite saints. When I was in the eighth grade, I chose Francis as my confirmation name. As a horse-crazy kid, I suspect it was the depictions of him befriending birds and beasts and his appreciation for nature that appealed to me. But as I’ve grown to know him more through readings about the saint and a pilgrimage to Assisi in my early twenties, I see that he was so much more than an animal lover.
I recently had the opportunity to read a wonderful biography of St. Francis courtesy of The Catholic Company’s Reviewer Program. Francis of Assisi by the late Michael de la Bedoyere* brings Francis as well as the world in which he lived to life. Its language is lyrical, its descriptions vivid.
After I read the in-depth biography written by a notable historian and scholar, I realized another reason I’ve always loved St. Francis is because as the biography’s back cover reminds us: He was like so many saints, he was an ordinary, flawed man who, with God’s grace, was able to do extraordinary things.
In his youth he was conflicted between a burning desire to serve his God and the intoxicating lure of worldly pursuits and riches. Some of his internal tortures reminded me of the very same struggles someone like me – what with my bizarre sanguine-melancholic blend – is faced with from time to time.
When I read the paragraph below in particular, I thought, “Oh, dear St. Francis, I know what you mean.”
“Francis was to become a man who wanted to laugh with joy at his freedom in God’s beautiful world and weep with compassion and love at the sufferings of his Lord, and he never seemed to know which to do.”
I haven’t always been sure how to react to God either. Do I cry? Laugh? Rejoice? Mourn?
God is too big to conjure up just one emotion. There have been times when I’ve been in awe of Him. Being close to nature or giving birth to a child can do that to me. I feel so small as I experience an indestructible sense of wonder: God created this mountain, this dancing dandelion’s white fuzz puffed into air, the depths of this vast ocean, this new life nestled in my arms.
There are other times when I don’t want to accept the atrocities of the Passion of Christ. It’s too painful.Wasn’t there another way? I don’t understand. I don’t understand. And I’ll shudder thinking of Jesus, bloodied and battered, crucified for us all. And I’ll cry when I hear about a child who has suffered, hollowed out and starving because there was nothing left to eat. Or I’ll weep in confusion when I’m reminded of the woman whose baby was ripped from her arms in tsunami that formed in the same ocean that seemed so beautiful to me once but now seems violent. Again, I’ll say: I don’t understand.
But I’ll take the good with the bad. Just as St. Francis did. He faced his fears, kissed a leper, endured the stigmata, led with joyful simplicity, yearned for more but accepted less when it was God’s will, sowed love out of hatred, replaced doubt with faith, discovered joy in sadness, and died with a “song in his heart.” He drank up suffering and humility and ended up being described as someone who was “drunk with God’s love.”
There’s so much in life that can fill me up with empty promises of guaranteed happiness – money, acclaim, bylines, thinness, a bigger house, a bigger life. Meanwhile, God is waiting, waiting for me to abandon my heart to Him, divert my passion to following His will, and drink up His goodness.
Lord, make me an instrument of peace. Guide my conflicted heart closer to You and so that like St. Francis of Assisi I may be satisfied and drunk with a complete, lasting love. Amen.
*I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.