Oct 4, 2011

Fighting w/ St. Francis

St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is today, is one of those once-powerful religious figures who've been totally domesticated. His radicalness, his weirdness, his challenge -- it's all smothered in quaint-saint gooeyness.*

The power's still there, of course, in potential, but Francis is made safe for the world (Catholic and Protestant, religious or not). We ensure he, the saint of the garden figurine, only ever works to affirm, always so supportive.

I am not saying, here, that it's other people who do this.

I'm saying you do this, unless your first response to Francis is to want to punch him. I'm saying I definitely do this.

I'm saying there's a covered-up part of St. Francis that we cover up that would make you and me go, what the hell...?

"When a brother novice came to Saint Francis, saying: 'Father, it would be a great consolation to me to own a psalter, but even supposing that our general should concede to me this indulgence, still I should like to have your consent,' Francis put him off .... '[C]are not,' he said, 'for owning books and knowledge, but care rather for works of goodness.' And when some weeks later the novice came again to talk of his craving for the psalter, Francis said: 'After you have got your psalter you will crave a breviary; and after you have got your breviary you will sit in you stall like a grand prelate, and will say to your brother, 'Hand me my breviary.' .... And thenceforward he denied all such requests."**

The only response I can summon is, what the ...?

The weirdness and uncomfortableness of saints like Francis can be rescued and resuscitated, same as it can with the Bible, a book you're not really reading if it's not messing you up. It's possible to de-sentimentalize saints so they are challenging and personally controversial, which is to say useful.

To do so would mean, though, that rather than easy adoration, the first response to St. Francis would be to feel appalled, threatened and offended. It would mean wanting to tell St. Francis he's wrong, wanting to disagree, wanting to fight.

I mean, seriously?, he denied the monk a psalter.

**Speculum Perfectionis, ed. P.Sabatier (Paris, 1898), 10, 13. Quoted in William James, Varieties of Religious Experience.