In honing St. Francis it would not hurt us to honor his father too.

Tuesday, 10/4/16

Today we honor St. Francis of Assissi, whom Catholics love second only to Mary.

 (Let me put down here something I wrote about St. Francis a few years ago.)

Most know the story of how his father brought Francis to court over having used their family’s money to aid the poor. We have heard how there in court, Francis stripped himself of the clothing he had from his father, becoming one of the poor. But, let’s hold back from picturing that father as a cruel businessman.

Like any head of a large family, Francis’s father Pietro had to keep watch over his expenses. He was a merchant who dealt in the fine fabrics woven in Assisi from thread arriving at the western end of the silk-road from China. Pietro had expanded his business to where he was a supplier of fine brocades to many of France’s elite, and in his stays in France he had become enamored of the Moorish themes and melodies taking hold there.

At first, merchants like Pietro scoffed at the Troubadour songs for the way they glorified the lives of the knights. The merchants knew the knights to be low living, unwanted, younger sons of the barons. They were boys trained for nothing but brawling.

But in spite of knowing the truth about knights, people couldn’t resist the charm of the songs that were picturing them as pure gentlemen who performed noble feats for the honor of fair ladies. Then, by an odd reversal of trends, the knights themselves came to believe in the fables about their chivalry, and they took to cleaning up their acts.

Pietro had been away in France when his seventh child was born. And at his return, on hearing that his wife had seen to having the baby baptized John, he nixed that. His affection for the French troubadours had him renaming the boy Francis. And Francis, from his early teens, took to living out his father’s fantasies. He and his companions dressed up for playing the games of courtly love. They were caught up in a Cultural Revolution.

That troubadour spirit, taking on a different guise, fired Francis after his conversion. He became a knight fighting for the honor of his Lady Poverty. His Canticle of Creatures, the first masterpiece composed in Italian, was the song of a sanctified troubadour.

I can’t here present anything like a biography of St. Francis, but let me just make two points. For one thing, he gave a reminder of the simple life of Jesus to a church encrusted with Feudal pomp. Secondly, he provided the Church with much- needed popular devotions by setting up the first Christmas manger, and by being the first to lead people in the Stations of the Cross.

It was his father, by instilling Francis with the troubadour spirit, who created Francis’s distinct character. On this matter we might note that we too often overlook the contribution of fathers. My own dad had a way of putting that. He’d say, “Remember that Washington’s birthday was Washington’s father’s birthday too.” 

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