Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. In any summary of his life one incident that is always included deals with his father taking him to court. While praying outside Assisi in the run down chapel of San Damiano, Francis heard the Lord telling him to repair his church. We assume he was being told to repair the Catholic Church. but Francis took it to mean he was to renovate the chapel of San Damiano.
Setting out on patching the old chapel, and running short on materials, Francis sold some of his father’s fine fabrics. At his wit’s end over that, his father took Francis to court. There Francis, famously, stripped himself of all the clothing he had received from his father, and in his under-things, he went off on an independent life.
I might be wrong about this, but I think we should try to see things from the side of his father, Pietro di Bernardone. He was a successful processor and weaver of raw silk from China. He was on a lengthy marketing trip to France when his seventh child was born, and his wife had Christened Giovanni. Pietro had been so taken with life in France, that on his return he changed the boy’s name to Francis.
This Francis, from his earliest years was completely taken up with the music and the lives of the troubadours, and he may have taken the craze from his father. Pietro’s stays there had been at a time when France was going wild over songs of chivalry.
That craze was a unique phenomenon. The melodies coming from Spain’s Moors were linked to tales of young nobles who each pursued an impossible quest for the honor of an untouchable fair lady. Now, up that time, France’s knights in armor had been illiterate younger sons who knew nothing but fighting, drinking and seducing. But by an odd reversal of trends, France’s young knights turned their lives around to suit their image in the songs of the troubadours.
Through all his boyhood Francis was obsessed with playing the troubadour, and with striving to do great things for some lady whose image he locked in his heart. After his conversion his great things were all for the Church and the poor. Lady Poverty herself became the image locked in his heart.
Instead of our painting his father as a heartless merchant, we could see him as the inspiration of France’s life as God’s troubadour. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. As my father used to say, “Washington’s birthday was Washington’s father’s birthday too.”