Monday, October 4, 2010

Feast of St. Francis

Happy Monday, everybody. Today happens to be the Feast of St. Francis day, according to the Christian calendar. This works out well, since my friend Leroy has been posting about St. Francis a lot lately, as well.

If you don't know much about St. Francis, you really should read up on him. Robert West has a new biography about him, available at for cheap. Also, if you're into slightly fanciful, dramatic film interpretations, check out Franco Zeferelli's movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon.

Earlier this year, I purchased a book via called Literary Companion to the Festivals, by Mark Pryce (with a foreword by Walter Brueggemann). In this book, Pryce has collected spiritually relevant pieces by well-known literary figures, and compiled them into a daily reading for each holiday or feast day on the Christian calendar. Here's today's reading, provided from a letter by Oscar Wilde.

Written in 1897 when Wilde was in public disgrace, serving a prison sentence and declared bankrupt, this letter arises out of the depths of Wilde's humiliation. In his reflections on human suffering and repentance Wilde writes eloquently of the graciousness of Christ's 'poetic' nature--that is, of the supreme quality of his imagination--and of his sympathy and love towards others. For Wilde, only the life of St. Francis truly mirrored these qualities of Christ:

"The world had always loved the saint as being the nearest approach to the perfection of God. Christ, through some divine instinct in him, seems to have always loved the sinner as being the nearest possible approach to the perfection of man. His primary desire was not to reform people, any more than his primary desire was to relieve suffering. To turn an interesting thief into a tedious honest man was not his aim. He would have thought little of the Prisoners' Aid Society and other modern movements of that kind. The conversion of a publican into a Pharisee would not have seemed to him a great achievement. But in a manner not yet understood of the world he regarded sin and suffering as being in themselves beautiful holy things and modes of perfection.

It seems a very dangerous idea. It is--all great ideas are dangerous. That is was Christ's creed admits of no doubt. That it is the true creed I don't doubt myself.

Of course the sinner must repent. But why? Simply because otherwise he would be unable to realize what he had done. The moment of repentance is the moment of initiation. More than that: it is the means by which one alters one's past. The Greeks thought that impossible. They often say in the gnomic aphorisms, 'Even the Gods cannot alter the past'. Christ showed that the commonest sinner could do it, that it was the one thing he could do. Christ, had he been asked, would have said--I feel quite certain about it--that the moment the prodigal son fell on his knees and wept, he made his having wasted his substance with harlots, his swine-herding and hungering for the husks they ate, beautiful and holy moments in his life. It is difficult for most people to grasp the idea. I dare say one has to go to prison to understand it. If so, it may be worth while going to prison.

There is something so unique about Christ. Of course just as there are false dawns before the dawn itself, and winter days so full of sudden sunlight that they will cheat the wise crocus into squandering its gold before its time, and make some foolish bird call to its mate to build on barren boughs, so there were Christians before Christ. For that we should be grateful. The unfortunate thing is that there have been none since. I make one exception, St. Francis of Assisi. But then God had given him at his birth the soul of a poet, as he himself when quite young had in mystical marriage taken poverty as his bride: and with the soul of a poet and the body of a beggar he found the way to perfection not difficult. He understood Christ, and so he became like him. We do not require the Liber Conformitatum to teach us that the life of St. Francis was the true Imitatio Christi, a poem compared to which the book of that name is merely prose.

Indeed, that is the charm about Christ, when all is said: he is just like a work of art. He does not really teach one anything, but by being brought into his presence one becomes something. And everyone is predestined to his presence. Once at least in his life each man walks with Christ to Emmaus."
--Literary Companion to the Festivals, by Mark Pryce

No comments:

Post a Comment