28 February: Saint Francis and his blindness.

Francis and the Passion

Rowan Williams said that Christ lived a life-long Passion. It was a passion, both in terms of human suffering – just one example being when the members of his local synagogue tried to kill him by throwing him down a cliff – and in terms of zeal, enthusiasm, living each day to the full; and in terms of love. Saint Francis grasped this idea and tried to live it out, feeling his own response to being alive and loved by God as falling short.

Would we not have compromised on the form the Franciscan order should take; be more practical in many circumstances than Francis was? Let us use this Lent to become conscious of where our compromises go too far.

“St. Francis was a dying man. We might say he was an old man, at the time this typical incident occurred; but in fact he was only prematurely old; for he was not fifty when he died, worn out with his fighting and fasting life. But when he came down from the awful asceticism and more awful revelation of Alverno, he was a broken man.

As will be apparent when these events are touched on in their turn, it was not only sickness and bodily decay that may well have darkened his life; he had been recently disappointed in his main mission to end the Crusades by the conversion of Islam; he had been still more disappointed by the signs of compromise and a more political or practical spirit in his own order; he had spent his last energies in protest.

At this point he was told that he was going blind. If the faintest hint has been given here of what St. Francis felt about the glory and pageantry of earth and sky, about the heraldic shape and colour and symbolism of birds and beasts and flowers, some notion may be formed of what it meant to him to go blind. Yet the remedy might well have seemed worse than the disease. The remedy, admittedly an uncertain remedy, was to cauterise the eye, and that without any anaesthetic. In other words it was to burn his living eyeballs with a red-hot iron. Many of the tortures of martyrdom, which he envied in martyrology and sought vainly in Syria, can have been no worse.

When they took the brand from the furnace, he rose as with an urbane gesture and spoke as to an invisible presence: “Brother Fire, God made you beautiful and strong and useful; I pray you be courteous with me.” If there be any such thing as the art of life, it seems to me that such a moment was one of its masterpieces.

From Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis, by G. K. Chesterton

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Lent, Mission

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