Tuesday, October 04, 2016

The tough love of St. Francis of Assisi

"Those who refuse to do penance and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are blind....They indulge their vices and sins and follow their evil longings and desires, without a thought for the promises they made."
~Saint Francis of Assisi in his Letter to All the Faithful

In our day, Saint Francis of Assisi is commonly portrayed as a nice, happy-go-lucky friar who traveled around Italy preaching about being helpful, friendly and blessing animals. The real Saint Francis was very far from this distorted caricature. He was a loyal follower of even the hardest teachings of Jesus Christ and a true son and soldier of the Catholic Church. He was not averse to preaching directly to the faithful in terms that would grate the soft sensibilities of many modern religious leaders. Considering the easy road preached by many today, it is well to reflect upon the words written by St. Francis in his Letter to All the Faithful. Here is the above quote in context:
“Every creature in heaven and on earth and in the depths of the sea should give God praise and glory and honour and blessing (cf. Ap. 5: 13); he has borne so much for us and has done and will do so much good to us; he is our power and our strength, and he alone is good (cf. Lk. 18:19), he alone most high, he alone all-powerful, wonderful, and glorious; he alone is holy and worthy of all praise and blessing for endless ages and ages. Amen.
All those who refuse to do penance and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are blind, because they cannot see the light, our Lord Jesus Christ. They indulge their vices and sins and follow their evil longings and desires, without a thought for the promises they made. In body they are slaves of the world and of the desires of their lower nature, with all the cares and anxieties of this life; in spirit they are slaves of the devil. They have been led astray by him and have made themselves his children, dedicated to doing his work. They lack spiritual insight because the Son of God does not dwell in them, and it is he who is the true wisdom of the Father. It is of such men as these that Scripture says, their skill was swallowed up (Ps. 106: 27). They can see clearly and are well aware what they are doing; they are fully conscious of the fact that they are doing evil, and knowingly lose their souls.”
See, then you who are blind, deceived by your enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, our fallen nature loves to commit sin and hates to serve God; this is because vice and sin come from the heart of man, as the Gospel says. You have no good in this world and nothing to look forward to in the next. You imagine that you will enjoy the worthless pleasures of this life indefinitely, but you are wrong. The day and the hour will come, the day and the hour for which you have no thought and of which you have no knowledge whatever. First sickness, then death, draws near; friends and relatives come and advise the dying man, "Put your affairs in order". Wife and children, friends and relatives, all pretend to mourn. Looking about, he sees them weeping. An evil inspiration comes to him. Thinking to himself, he says, "Look, I am putting my body and soul and all that I have in your hands". Certainly a man who would do a thing like that is under a curse, trusting and leaving his body and his soul and all that he has defenseless in such hands. God tells us by his Prophet, Cursed shall he be that puts his trust in man (Jer. 17:5). There and then, they call a priest; he says to the sick man, "Do you want to be absolved from all your sins?" 
And the dying man replies, "I do". "Are you ready then to make restitution as best you can out of your property for all that you have done, all the fraud and deceit you practiced towards your fellow men?" the priest asks him. "No", he replies. And the priest asks, "Why not?" "Because I have left everything in the hands of my relatives and friends", is the answer. Then his speech begins to fail and so the unfortunate man dies an unhappy death."
The complete "Letter to All the Faithful" may be found here.

The image accompanying this post shows Saint Francis pointing to death, taken from a fresco painted in 1320 by Giotto which appears on the North transept, Lower Church, San Francesco in Assisi, Italy.
http://www.wga.hu/html_m/g/giotto/assisi/lower/ceiling/

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