Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Way of St. Francis Today

One of the touchstones of Donald Trump’s speeches is that it’s a dog-eat-dog world: eat or be eaten. Everyone is looking to cheat everyone else and win by any means necessary. By way of explaining his favorite Bible verse, “an eye for an eye,” Mr. Trump put it this way: “ see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us. ...and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money...”

Trump’s supporters, quite understandably, view this as an example of his truth-telling. They look around and see the world he is describing. In such a world, strength and even ruthlessness are needed to protect what is rightfully yours. Mr. Trump’s apparent prowess in grabbing and securing success and happiness is therefore respected and considered an example worthy of imitation by many.

Denouncing Mr. Trump’s worldview does little good. We need to know and live a different way and show it to others, as St. Francis of Assisi showed it to his time. The Gospels taught him to let go rather than to secure , to receive good things as gifts from God rather than to grab. Life during Francis’s time was very different but no less violent and competitive, no less of a struggle than it is for us. Yet, by all accounts, he was no less happy than a billionaire.

Peter Maurin presented the message of St. Francis to the struggling people around him during the depths of the Great Depression. (Note that he wasn’t in a bubble of comfort and ease as I often am. He wasn’t primarily presenting this radical vision to well-off but bored people longing for adventure and meaning. He had lived as a wandering laborer for years and spent each day with people out of work and lacking even basic necessities like food.)

What St. Francis Desired
A tunic worn by St. Francis of Assisi
(consistent with carbon dating)
According to Johannes Jorgensen,
a Danish convert living in Assisi,
St. Francis desired
that men should give up
superfluous possessions.
St. Francis desired
that men should work with their hands.
St. Francis desired
that men should offer their services
as a gift.
St. Francis desired
that men should ask other people for help
when work failed them.
St. Francis desired
that men should live
as free as birds.
St. Francis desired
that men should go through life
giving thanks to God for His gifts.
- source, no copyrights reserved

St. Francis lived this way for months and years before a few of the people of his town finally stopped mocking him, unexpectedly finding themselves wanting to join him. Years later, when hundreds were following him, people in those cities no longer looked around and saw a world in which everyone was trying to take advantage of everyone else. Instead of being lured into resentment and a hamster wheel of diversions, they were--and we can be still today--drawn into the joy and creative power of the living God.
Fritz Eichenberg wood engraving