Thursday, August 02, 2012

On the Character of Saint Francis

Benedictine Monastery, in Creve Coeur, Missouri, USA - statue of Saint Francis of Assisi

“My God and my All.”
FOR A LONG TIME, I’ve been reading a biography of Saint Francis of Assisi — typically only a paragraph or two before falling asleep — and I finished the book last night. As today happens to be the day of the famed Portiuncula privilege, gained by Saint Francis, I thought I would post this from the biography:
Our blessed Father was agreeable to all. Joy, serenity, kindness, and modesty, were perceptible in his countenance. He was naturally mild and affable, compassionate, liberal, prudent, discreet, gave sound advice, was faithful to his word, and full of courage; he was easy in his manners, accommodating himself to all sorts of tempers; he was all to all, he was a saint among the saintly, and among sinners, as if he was one of them; his conversation was graceful, and his manner insinuating; clear in his reasoning, energetic and compliant in matters of business; and, finally, simple in his actions and words.
Such a character, worthy of imitation! The book continues, explaining the nature of Francis’ simplicity:
We must receive in their true sense what was understood in saying that “he was simple in his actions and words.” The term simplicity has two significations in English.—Firstly it is used to describe a person of little mind, narrow-minded, dull, not well informed, weak and credulous; it is also used to express candor, ingenuousness, and uprightness; to describe a person who is natural, without artfulness. It is in this sense that it is said that the greatest geniuses are the most simple; enemies of subtlety and trick, which are only appropriate to narrow minds. The simplicity of the just, in Scriptural language, is true virtue, solid without drawback, purity of heart, uprightness of intention; in opposition to every sort of duplicity or disguise—everything that St. Paul calls “the prudence of the flesh; the wisdom of this world.” St. Gregory so explains it. This does not exclude prudence, but only malice and double dealing. Our Blessed Lord warns us “to be prudent as serpents, and simple as doves.” St. Paul says: “I would have you to be wise in good, and simple in evil.” Every Christian must be simple in faith, submitting himself purely and simply to the decisions of the Church, without any endeavor to elude them by crafty evasions, as some do in so scandalous a manner; simple in the intercourse of society, being frank and sincere, doing injury to no one; simple in devotion, going straight to God; following the way pointed out by the Gospel; not resembling those of whom the wise man says: “They go two ways, and have two hearts,” the one for God, and the other for the world.

Such was the simplicity of St. Francis. He was simple because he had no other intention in his mind, no other movement in his heart, than to be conformed to Jesus Christ. In order to imitate His poverty, His humility, His sufferings, all His virtues, he did many things far above the ordinary rules of human wisdom; and, as to his language, it was formed on that of the Gospel.

St. Francis was simple, but he had great qualities of mind and heart; and his simplicity was a perfection in him—not a defect. If it induced him to do things of which human prudence disapproves, it was because he was guided by Divine light; it was because he sought to be despised by the world, to render himself more conformable to Jesus Christ. Men of his age were not deceived by it; they discovered the principle which made him act and speak with such simplicity. His constant endeavor to humble himself, and draw on himself contempt, only gave them a greater esteem for his person, and they loaded him with honors. If our age deems itself wiser, what reason has it for not doing similar justice?


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