We had an Excuse for
than we should Be
... except for Saint Francis
had an excuse ... except for Saint Francis ... and Saint
Clare. And now we are without one.
am only a man ... only a woman. What can you expect of me?”
all 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
is a terribly vexing problem, however, and it is this:
Saint Francis. And Saint Clare.
Saints Francis and Clare! Except for them, we had an excuse
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.
Christ, 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.
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”
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
“environmentalists" to whom Saint Francis
is little more than a
“Flower Child”. 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:
“Woe to those who die in mortal
It occurs toward the close and summation of the poem.
Saint Francis knew his priorities and never demurred from them.
scandalized by Saint Francis, mortified by Saint Clare. Why?
Deprived of excuses
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
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 pounds.
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.
is to be motivated, something greater than faith itself is required,
something less epistemic, less connected with the head and more connected
with the heart.
it in Francis not because Francis found it, but because he lived it.
Because Clare lived it.
live it, too. Their lives show us this. It is great wisdom to be a great
fool for Christ.
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.”
love, then, engenders perfect courage.
be discouraged, children. Be inspired. You have more
than they did ... for they have gone before you.
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