Saintly Newspaper Clippings

stfrancisMy brother, sister and I have nearly finished the somber task of going through my father’s possessions. We distributed many items to various family members, but the local charities have probably benefited most, as we cleared out the three bedroom home.

Sadly, my mother died nearly twenty years ago. My sister inherited her cedar chest, but had left it in our father’s house. As she prepared to take it home, we discovered some interesting items, including forty pictures my father had sent home during his 1967-68 tour in Vietnam.

We also found a Bible my mother had used when she attended studies. She was born in the generation which would never dare to highlight passages or scribble in the margins. Thus, the Bible bears no evidence it ever belonged to her . . . aside from some inspiring bookmarks, and a few newspaper clippings she had found meaningful.

One of the quotations that I too found particularly edifying, came from the pen of a Roman Catholic priest named Francis de Sales:

Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or he will give you the unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.

Francis was a post-Reformation Bishop of Geneva who was noted for his gentle approach toward religious divisions—in an era when such moderation was extremely rare. He is known for writings on spiritual growth (in Roman Catholic parlance, “spiritual formation”).

Although I have not read it, his book Introduction to the Devout Life comes highly recommended, and is available for free download here. I suspect even agnostics could enjoy it for its historical value.

By all accounts, Francis led a chaste and humble life, much like his namesake, Francis of Assisi. (Both men were canonized by their Church.)

Speaking of the first St. Francis, I have always wondered why no Pope ever honored his legacy by assuming his name. I suppose this is because his most prominent characteristics are not those most Popes seek to emulate. The assumption of Francis’ name by the new Pope, I believe, bodes well for his papacy. If he follows in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi, he cannot stray too far afield.

C.S. Lewis appreciated the thirteenth-century saint who began life as a self-indulged soldier and ended it living under a strict vow of poverty. Francis’ celebrated affection for animals—he is considered their “patron saint”—could not help but endear the monk to the creator of Narnia. Each year, many Christians participate in Roman Catholic and Anglican ceremonies for the blessing of animals on Saint Francis’ feast day.

In The Four Loves, Lewis discusses the nature of our physical body. He notes that there are several competing perspectives about our corporeal constitution, with the extremes either demeaning or glorifying humanity’s material nature. Lewis suggests that a metaphor created by Saint Francis provides a more biblical view.

Man has held three views of his body. First there is that of those ascetic Pagans who called it the prison or the “tomb” of the soul, and of Christians like Fisher to whom it was a “sack of dung,” food for worms, filthy, shameful, a source of nothing but temptation to bad men and humiliation to good ones. Then there are the Neo-Pagans (they seldom know Greek), the nudists and the sufferers from Dark Gods, to whom the body is glorious.

But thirdly we have the view which St. Francis expressed by calling his body “Brother Ass.” All three may be—I am not sure—defensible; but give me St. Francis for my money. Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, lovable and infuriating beast; deserving now the stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body. There’s no living with it till we recognise that one of its functions in our lives is to play the part of buffoon.

Yes, I have to live for a while yet in this donkey of a shell, which illustrates daily the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who wrote that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak . . . and short-sighted . . . and lazy . . . and stubborn . . .

This body, my flesh, argues that I should spend my day worrying about tomorrow. But the Holy Spirit speaks a more hopeful word. A promise. As God inspired Francis de Sales to eloquently proclaim: “Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day.”

12 thoughts on “Saintly Newspaper Clippings

  1. Clearing out a house is always hard. It seems you and your siblings were kind to each other and handled it well. People’s Bibles are revealing. While books weren’t supposed to be written in, my dad called one his “study Bible” that he took notes in as he read or in Bible study class sessions. (We have the giant oversized Family Bibles from both sides of the family – on births and deaths were to written in those). I wish I had grabbed Dad’s Bible to keep rather than burying it with him.
    Hope this pope’s name does have meaning.
    Weren’t the clergy at the time of the original St Francis annoyed with him and his teachings at the time? (need to look that up)
    Nice last paragraph. Great post.

    1. I always encourage people to use their Bible the way your dad did his study Bible. It’s God’s Word to all… but that copy is God’s word to you, so adding notes is wonderful. I understand your regret at not having access to his Bible now, but it’s understandable how the family made the decision you did.

      Yes, Francis caused a bit of consternation in his day. (Reformers always do.) The later history of the Order–as it gained wealth–is fascinating. There are actually three major versions of Franciscans today. The main difference being how closely they follow Francis’ original Rule.

  2. 9bones

    Reading Lewis’ The Four Loves currently and had dog-eared the selection you quoted about “Brother Ass.” Thanks for sharing your post.

  3. I love the prayer/encouragement from de Sales, thank you for sharing it and your story. The fact that it comes from your mother is like her giving you this prayer as well, which must have been such a gift. I shared it on my blog today as well, and linked your blog. Thank you for your good writing Rob, you keep me inspired!

  4. Hey I began following young I enjoy your topics. Loved this post. Not sure if you have read it or not, but G.K. Chesterton has probably the best biography written on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. It is extremely delightful. The life of Francis of Assisi as well has been a favorite of humanists who claim him as their own saint. :) But Chesterton gets it right. He was a man who loved nature, loved humanity, and loved God with a romantic love. It drove him to semi-ascetic behavior as well as drove him to be one of the most recognized lovers of nature, and humanity. A wonderful gift to the world.

  5. Pingback: A Portuguese Pope & C.S. Lewis – Mere Inkling Press

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