had an Excuse for Being Less
than we should Be
... except for
had an excuse ... except for Saint Francis ... and
And now we are
am only a man ... only a woman. What can you expect of me?”
Christians really, are not wanting in belief ... only in courage: the
courage required to relinquish our own practical designs, our deep-seated
pragmatism that orders means to ends. But because our ends
are many, and not one – God – they are essentially outside
of God, and this a rather unsatisfactory state of affairs ... one which
does not portend well.
Despite our most
earnest profession of faith, we still believe – or at least act
as if we believe – that it is we, and not God, who know what
is best for us, and how best to achieve it – I mean, in matters really
practical like acquiring money, substance, shelter, building
barns against the anticipated year of famine. We all do it in one way
or another. Well, at least most of us.
Matters of a material
sort, after all, are the province of man, yes? – and
who is most competent to judge of such matters if not man? We render
to God what is God's — things spiritual and the like that we presume
can be indefinitely deferred before being brought to account – and to
man what is man's, things material, quotidian to be sure, but terribly
pragmatic no less, and very likely due today.
Now, this appears
entirely satisfactory, well proportioned and wise, and we are quite
comfortable with it ... in fact, if we are really adept, we can
even attenuate that nagging sense of disproportion between what we
are in fact doing and what we really know we should be
doing – that is to say, what God would have us do.
In any event,
we achieve the ends we have set before us, and if there is any residual
guilt arising out of this nagging sense of disproportion, we are nevertheless
confident that time will eradicate its remembrance, and we shall then
have both – the end we desired, and freedom from the sting of conscience
that initially accompanied it.
In effect, we
are saying that we will start anew – once we have achieved
our end. And, of course, we never do: we acknowledge that our behavior
has its consequences in eternity, but we still are not persuaded to
do, or in retrospect, to have done, otherwise.
The reason for this, I think, is quite simple: we presume much. Of time,
mortality, life, death – but mostly we presume upon God; upon His understanding
our frailty (which, for our part, we do little to rehabilitate) and,
of course, upon His mercy, given His understanding of our irremediable
and largely incorrigible condition.
The Problem ...
There is a terribly
vexing problem, however, and it is this: Saint Francis.
And Saint Clare.
Alas ... Saints
Francis and Clare! Except for them, we had an excuse ...
Let us be unsparing
in articulating the problem, which is a very real one. For the moment
let us look at the one, Francis, for the one is really the other: two
peas in a pod that is really a thistle.
Who was like us in every way except sin, Saint Francis, who was like
Christ — more like Christ than any man who has ever lived —
was like us in every way.
With Christ we
are inclined to say, "Ah, yes, but He was God also!
no such excuse before the example of Saint Francis.
But Saint Francis,
we protest, was clearly the beneficiary of extraordinary grace,
and we are not.
I do not think
that such an assessment does Saint Francis justice –certainly it does
God no justice.
Sin and the “Canticle
of the Sun”
Most people are
familiar with Saint Francis's Canticle of the Sun —
it is popular in our New Age spirituality because Saint Francis
lauds creation which itself praises God; it is especially dear to
to whom Saint Francis is little more than a “Flower
Indeed it is often quoted. But just as often, one admonition
by Saint Francis within that poem is seldom printed or spoken,
or is simply glossed over:
to those who die in mortal sin.”
It occurs toward
the close and summation of the poem. Saint Francis knew his priorities
and never demurred from them.
We are scandalized
by Saint Francis, mortified by Saint Clare. Why?
Deprived of excuses
Because they deprive
us of our excuses.
did the unthinkable, the inexcusable: he took Christ at His word. Literally.
No equivocating, no scholarly hermeneutics, no convenient interpolation,
nothing of casuistry, no middle way — in fact, no accommodating Christ
to the world whatever — on the other hand, he possessed a passionate
desire to bring the world to Christ.
Saint Francis had, in short, the courage to act with conviction upon
the words, the promises, of Christ – the courage to relinquish the pragmatic
promptings of his own will in deference to a wisdom he believed far
greater than his own. In a word, Saint Francis submitted himself to
As we said earlier, we are not lacking in faith — but faith, in our
terribly practical affairs, somehow does not suffice and fails to motivate
us in and of itself. We may believe something completely, absolutely,
without reservation – and still fail to have the courage to act
We may, for example,
and with good warrant, believe that the tensile strength of a steel
cable one quarter inch in diameter is capable of suspending 10,000 pounds
with a safety ratio of 3:1. What is more, it has been scientifically
tested, quality assured, and certified as such. We may in fact, have
repeatedly observed such a cable holding 10.000 pounds. Even 30,000
And yet, despite
the evidence (which, of course, faith does not possess), few of us would
have the courage to allow ourselves to be suspended by so narrow a cable
1000 feet above the ground. Our safety would be virtually certain, but
it would no less be insufficient.
In other words, generally speaking, there is little commensurability
between faith, understood as belief, and the courage to act upon it.
If faith is to
be motivated, something greater than faith itself is required, something
less epistemic, less connected with the head and more connected with
We find it in
Francis not because Francis found it, but because he lived it. Because
Clare lived it.
We can live it,
too. Their lives show us this. It is great wisdom to be a great fool
In the end, I
think that we will find that if we are lacking courage — it is because
we are lacking love. And perhaps this, after all, is what the Evangelist
Saint John means when he says that
love drives out all fear.”
Only perfect love,
then, engenders perfect courage.
Do not be discouraged,
children. Be inspired. You have more than they did
... for they have gone before you.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
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Totally Faithful to the Sacred
Deposit of Faith entrusted to the Holy See in Rome
opera tua ... quia modicum habes virtutem, et servasti verbum
Meum, nec non negasti Nomen Meum”
know your works ... that you have but little power, and
yet you have kept My word, and have not denied My Name.”
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