The travesty of our saints is that we strip them of their humanity, hide their faults under pious shrouds, enshrine their bones in gold, and duplicate their images in plaster or plastic to adorn garden plots or bury them upside down as an offering for a speedy and profitable real estate contract.
Poor Saint Francis of
I've known your name all my life. But who are you?
Cities throughout the world adopt your name. Schools and churches claim the same. Hearing the name Saint Francis evokes a gentle, dreamy portrait of a young man in a brown robe surrounded by birds, a nature boy wandering hills and forest, singing songs of praise to God's creatures. On your feast day we remember you by blessing our pets and livestock. But I don't know you.
You were once flesh and blood, walking in a moment of history not so different than our own. Yes, in God's radiant light shadows fade, but are not forgotten. You never forgot the drunken nights prowling narrow streets with your band of revelers, your entourage, your gang, lips greasy with pork fat, tongue sweetened with marzipan, singing bawdy songs, daggers at your waist, slipping in pools of blood and wine.
In your armor of knightly ambition, in a battle for honor and prestige, did any die by your sword before you were captured and pitched in a dark, damp prison? Bound in chains and sick with malaria, what turned your gaze beyond this world, beyond your lust for flesh, food and admiration? What feverish dreams shattered the self glory of knightly distinction and the luxury of a merchant's extravagant brocade?
I see you standing naked, unashamed, determined to leave behind all you've known, all that gave you pleasure, to step into the unknown, to take a path not yet created. No longer generous host of night-long banquets, you must beg for food, the leftovers of another's table, the stale hard bread, the food given to dogs. You, who once had servants to make your bed, to help you dress, choose instead to clean the pus from leper's wounds, to be a slave to those you once despised with disgust. Barefoot and clad in a torn peasant's robe, you walked alone, abandoning friends, forsaking father and mother to follow a whispering voice. What did you feel that first night, huddled in a decaying church? Was it doubt or joy? Were you lonely or did the wooden crucifix upon the wall offer solace?
You left the battlefield of gauntlets and broadsword to enter a personal crusade. Armed with faith and love, you fought a personal crusade against the whims of the ego. Ice and snow cooled your lust. Ashes defeated your gluttony. Begging conquered pride. A broken body in tattered robes vanquished vanity. Brave knight of God, armed with the shield of Job's faith, your banner the words of Christ, fought a war few people understood and yet, you struggled on with laughter and song.
Did the sight of seraphim wings make you smile when people threw mud and stones and called you a madman? What angelic music did you hear that made you sing when people turned away? What gave you strength to continue walking in the world, barefoot, hungry, often alone for the sake of your soul and the soul of others?
And what did you see with eyes dim from disease that made you call out to Brother Sun, the sisters Moon and Stars, to acclaim in a dying voice the glory of the wind, fire, air and earth. What light in your heart made you speak with adoration of the power of Queen Wisdom and Lady Love?
I ask these questions and feel you next to me, a silent force still smiling, still singing, holding out your hand, beckoning. Though I am tired, though I think myself too weak and images of your suffering make me weep, I take your hand. Yes, show me. I have to know.