Here, as promised, is Francis as a young man giving back to his father the fine clothes he had earned or been given in the course of the family business. During Mass at the Upper Basilica in Assisi, we found ourselves seated next to this Giotto fresco. A rather worried looking bishop is covering Francis’s nakedness with a towel. I can’t help but wonder what is going through the episcopal mind: this is not an everyday scene. Was he trying to keep the peace between father and son?
Many families have moments of truth, if less dramatic. We don’t expect our children to turn their backs so determinedly on all that we parents have worked for, worked hard for in the case of the prosperous merchant: his long days of travelling, hours of hard bargaining and of learning to appreciate the skill of the weavers and embroiderers who supplied him. Perhaps the bishop’s own vestments were cut from Mr Bernadone’s cloth, but he saw that it was good, and so was the comfortable family life it brought.
Francis is not turning his back on his father and on riches, but in a gesture of prayer, he offers them to his Creator. He is learning how to be a creature, rather than a self-made man.
So who is called to sacrifice here? Francis has made his decision and by this gesture he makes it public. He will live openly dependent on God, utterly crazy in the eyes of his father who has constructed a secure home with every mod con, including servants. Peter Bernadone can see poverty any time he cares to look for it and he shuns it, the cold, filth, hunger poor people endured then.
Letting his son go must have been a wrenching, tremendous sacrifice; so I wonder who needed the bishop most, once this scene was over, the son or the father?
Abraham was called, challenged, to sacrifice his son, only for Isaac to be restored and redeemed, sent back to become a patriarch, an ancestor of God’s people. Francis was to live largely under the family’s eye, dying at the bottom of the hill on which Assisi is built, a daily challenge to his former circle.
Let us pray for the wisdom to handle moments of truth without antagonising any of the parties involved, and for the grace to be close to our families in times of trial and times of joy.
Image from Wikipedia