A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

My Photo
Location: Virginia, United States

Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

"For All the Saints": St. Mary Magdalene

A few days ago, I was trying to alphabetize my bookcase, and as I tried to yank out one of my old accounting textbooks, four tiny children’s picture books of the Saints that had been wedged in there and forgotten over the years came flying out. When I was a little kid, I absolutely loved reading about the Saints- in fact, I preferred stories of the Saints to the typical fairy tales.

The long-lost Saint books that I discovered the other day are called “Miniature Stories of the Saints.” The are divided into four little books- two about women Saints, two about men Saints- and have a picture and a one-page synopsis of about twenty Saints in each book. The books were written by Daniel A. Lord, S.J., copyright 1943. The text intentionally is geared towards very young children, and often very complicated details of the Saints’ lives are couched in very childlike terms. Nonetheless, the simple piety of these books is lovely and the pictures are absolutely gorgeous.

Thus, in honor of All Saints Day coming up, I’ve decided to reproduce some excerpts from these wonderful little books. Since you’ve certainly heard enough from me about Sts. Clare and Francis, I’m going to tell you about Saints that I haven’t really mentioned before but who were equally as important to the Church.

Today, I’d like to focus on St. Mary Magdalene. Now in all honesty, she was a Saint that I didn’t used to like very much. Even before all the “Da Vinci Code” hogwash came into the spotlight, I was duped by various media sources which tended to depict her as Jesus’ “girlfriend.” For instance, at my alma mater’s Lenten Stations of the Cross, the reflections always used this phrase that said, “And Mary Magdalene, who loved Jesus like none other, was at the foot of the cross.” Regrettably, because I was duped by skewed depictions of Mary Magdalene, there had been times when I even wondered why she was a Saint!

However, my thoughts about her began to change after all the “Da Vinci Code” bunk came into the limelight and I read various books that debunked Dan Brown’s specious claims. Considering all the lies that have been fabricated about her throughout the centuries, Mary Magdalene still is embracing the foot of the cross! Just as people bore false witness to Our Lord, spat on Him, mocked Him, and degraded Him, the same thing has happened to St. Mary Magdalene! Just as Jesus still infinitely loves us despite how much we hurt Him, St. Mary Magdalene is in heaven and still lovingly intercedes for us on earth. Jesus was Himself free of all sin, yet he loved us so much as to take on our sin and die for it. Similarly, even though Mary Magdalene was most likely not a prostitute herself, she has lovingly taken on the role of the heavenly patron and intercessor of all those trying to overcome sexual temptation.

One of the things that make St. Mary Magdalene’s life so powerful was the very fact that she wasn’t Christ’s spouse. Indeed, there might be many women out there who want to take on the role of Christ’s spouse as a consecrated religious Sister or Nun, but for whatever reason are not called to that state of life. St. Mary Magdalene is the perfect example of a woman who wasn’t His spouse, yet she managed to put all her trust in Him and love Him with her whole heart by being his disciple and embracing the cross! Hence, St. Mary Magdalene can also intercede for us so that we may learn to love God to the greatest extent possible according to our particular state in life.

Through God’s grace, St. Mary Magdalene has gone from being my least-favorite Saint to among my most cherished!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Children Make-A-(Catholic)-Wish

"On the lips of children and infants you have found perfect praise"(Psalm 8)

I'm supposed to be doing a research project on Disney's partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but I couldn't help browsing some of the other wishes granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation's website. The Make-A-Wish Foundation is a non-for-profit that aims to make the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses come true. The most common wish requests are meeting a movie star or a trip to DisneyWorld. However, some very spiritually-minded children decided to make an extraordinary wish- to meet the Pope!

I found this "wish story" particularly inspiring:

Four-year-old Brendan is fighting a life-threatening illness. After he was referred to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the organization's volunteers asked Brendan his greatest wish. It didn't surprise Brendan's parents that he wished to meet the pope. Brendan's parents said that their son keeps a photograph of the pope in his room and loves to pray to him. Recently, the Make-A-Wish Foundation fulfilled Brendan¹s wish when he flew with his family to Italy.

Brendan and his family had a wonderful time in Rome. The highlight of the trip was when Brendan and his family attended a mass celebrated by the pope at Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence outside of Rome.

Brendan, his parents and brother Joseph and sister Mollie dressed in their Sunday best. They arrived at Castel Gandolfo well ahead of time and joined about 20 people in the pope's private chapel. "The pope came out and said mass," Brendan's mother recalled. "It was very simple, just like our parish priest." Afterward, they were led to an a room, where they were seated in U-fashion around a chair, waiting for the 81-year-old pontiff. "As soon as the pope came in, Brendan took off and stood right by his side," his mother said. "The whole time, while the pope was greeting the other people, Brendan stood by him with his hand on his arm. He couldn't take his eyes off him. It was very beautiful."

As he greeted the others, the pope would wink at Brendan and pat him on the head. Then it was the Brendan's family's turn, and they had their picture taken with him before returning to their seats with Brendan. The pope gave everyone his blessing, then rose and began walking slowly from the room. Just as he reached the door, Brendan ran towards the frail pontiff. "Bye, Pope," he cried out. The pope turned around and walked back to where Brendan stood. Smiling, he leaned over and shook his hand and the Vatican photographer took another photograph. "It was really a special moment," said his mother, her voice still filled with wonder. "You could see that they just loved each other."

As they left, the family realized that they'd witnessed something special. "I think everybody felt that it was Brendan¹s moment," his mother said. "The kids said, 'Yeah, you know, the pope really loves Brendan.'"

Brendan's family stayed in Rome for 10 days. They toured the Vatican, ate gelato at a sidewalk cafe on the Piazza Navona and visited a lot of churches.

Brendan's meeting with the pope was a true wish come true!

Here is the story of another little boy, Dominic, wishing to meet the Holy Father. Little Dominic's patron Saint would certainly be proud! :

When a children indicates that their wishes involve meeting a celebrity, it is not uncommon to find that they have a favorite musical star, actor, or animated character in mind. But 8-year-old Dominic was thinking on a much deeper plane. He wanted to meet the Pope.

Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation® of Eastern North Carolina, Dominic, along with his mom, dad, and little brother Vincent, traveled to Vatican City, Rome, for the adventure of a lifetime. Upon arriving, Dominic asked, "Where is the Pope? Where is the Pope mobile?"

While in Rome, Dominic and his family visited many historical sites, including St. Peter's Basilica constructed by Michelangelo, the Pantheon temple, Sistine Chapel and Trevi Fountain. But the highlight of Dominic's trip was when he met the Pope in person at the Vatican. He spent time talking with the Pope and even received a special blessing. His family was given a private tour of the Vatican museum and was invited to a gathering at the private residence of the United States ambassador, who presented Dominic and his brother with books on ancient Rome.

For this wish kid, the Eternal City provided eternal memories.

Friday, October 20, 2006



I have very special news to share with you all......the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns in Barhamsville, Virginia (yep, the nuns that are the inspiration for this blog) have created their own wonderful blog! The blog is appropriately titled "Clare-Light on the Mountain," and contains wonderful reflections on life at Mt. St. Francis, their monastery.

As a quick note, the Sisters mention on their blog that they will be having a discernment retreat. If there are any young men or women in the Virginia area who are interested in potentially attending this one-day retreat, feel free to e-mail me and I'll send you an e-copy of the brochure.

Alright already, so stop reading "Canticle of Chiara" and go visit "Clare-Light on the Mountain" ASAP!!!!

"Clare Light on the Mountain" is found here

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Chicago Poor Clare Colettines

If you happen to be in the Chicagoland area, be sure to visit one of the newest Poor Clare Colettine communities! You might recall from Mother Mary Francis' A Right to be Merry that this is the monastery in Chicago that the Poor Clares left in order to found a new cloister in Roswell, NM. In 2000, Cardinal George of Chicago invited them back to re-found a monastery in the area- and Mother Mary Francis was to be their abbess! In the picture above, can't you just see the joy and serenity abounding from their faces?!

The website is simple in layout, but the text is very poetic and beautifully written. For those of you who think you might be called to the consecrated life, please read these words taken directly off the Chicago Poor Clares website:

"A vocation is a free gift of God. It is offered, not forced. God invites, but He does not compel; and eternity will reveal how many vocations have been lost or disregarded. The rich young man in the Gospel was assuredly called, but he did not respond. He had a vocation, but he chose not to follow it. The Gospel says that "...he went away sad" (Mt 19:22). Doubtless he remained sad for the rest of his life.

God does not choose a young woman because she is good, but because He is so good. The one who thinks herself qualified to be a great success in the cloister is probably the one who will fail, whereas the one who is confused and humbled at the idea that God should look towards such poor material as herself for the fashioning of a contemplative nun is likely to persevere."

The Poor Clare's website can be found here, but if you happen to be in the vicinity, I suggest you pay them a visit as soon as you can find the time!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Servant of God Frank Parater's Birthday!

Today is the birthday of Francis Joseph Parater, Servant of God! As you might recall from my post last February, Frank has been very influential in drawing me closer to Christ and His Church. Since this year I am the same age as Frank was when he tragically died, his story has particular relevance- it illustrates that youth is no obstacle to being holy. How often I echo the words of St. Augustine by saying, “Lord make me holy, but not now.” Frank’s story shows us that we cannot put off our call to holiness until a later point- God calls us to turn ourselves to Him right now!

Below is the excerpt from George Weigel’s wonderful book Letters to a Young Catholic. It was through reading this book in May of 2004 that I first came to learn about Frank Parater. A month earlier in April, 2004, I had made the decision to come back to the Church after years of not believing. Given that I had been so adamant in not accepting Christ and the Church, it seemed as though an unseen hand had suddenly yanked me out of my disbelief. It was almost as if someone in heaven had looked down and pitied me and then whispered in God’s ear, “bring her back to You, Lord.” Thus, when I read this excerpt about Frank Parater’s life and learned that his greatest goal was to work for the conversion of all non-Catholics in Virginia, I considered that Frank could have been my heavenly intercessor.

Below is the excerpt that “introduced” me to this beautiful saint:

“The North American College Mausoleum, Campo Verano, Rome: The Hardest Questions”
Excerpt from George Weigel's, letters to a young Catholic (Basic Books, New York) 2004

Every Roman knows Campo Verano, although it's a bit off the typical tourist track. Originally the estate of Lucius Verus, co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius from 161 to 169, Campo Verano was designated as Rome's municipal cemetery when Napoleon and his minions were running things Italian in the early nineteenth century. It took decades to build; the idea, a grandiose one, was that everyone who died in Rome would be buried there after it was opened on July 1, 1836. This being Italy, it took a while to complete the original plans - the great gates to the cemetery were only finished in 1878.

Campo Verano occupies an enormous tract of land, some three times the size of Vatican City, in the Tiburtino District near Stazione Termini, the main train station. The gated entrance is a good stone's throw from the Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls; Blessed Pius IX is buried there in a memorial chapel whose mosaics are well worth a look. Once you're a few hundred yards inside Campo Verano, you can't see the cemetery's boundaries in any direction.

As you walk past the flower vendors and through the entrance gates to begin exploring Campo Verano's various "neighborhoods," you quickly get the impression that the Italians handle death about the same way as they handle everything else - dramatically. Monuments, mausoleums, family tombs, and even individual gravesites vie for splendor and bella figura. There's a very mixed population here - a little past the entrance, you can look up a gravel path to the tomb of Garibaldi, a rabid anticlerical, off to the right (inappropriately enough, from an ideological point of view). Yet as you continue along a seemingly infinity of paths, up and down hills and through small valleys, you'll also find squadrons of cardinals and other high-ranking clerics. According to one story, possibly apocryphal, students from Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University used to come here the night before exams to pray at the Gregorian faculty mausoleum - presumably to make sure that certain demanding professors stayed put. Politicians, movie stars, literary people, and ordinary Romans long forgotten to history are all here; you can actually get to know many of them from the photos or etchings that you find on their tombstones.

I first visited Campo Verano on All Soul's Day, November 2, 2001, when I went there with several faculty members and students from the Pontifical North American College for a memorial Mass at the college mausoleum. In the first half of the twentieth century, American seminarians who died in Rome were buried in this three-story stone building; the annual memorial Mass is a college tradition; and as I was staying at the college while working in Rome, I was invited to come along. After Mass, while exploring the inscriptions on the vaults inside the mausoleum, I came across the name Franciscus Parater. One of the seminarians asked whether I had read "Frank Parater's Prayer" in the college Manual of Prayers. I had to admit that I hadn't. "Don't miss it," was my young friend's advice.

Frank Parater had come to Rome in November 1919 to study for the priesthood as a candidate for the Diocese of Richmond. Twenty-two years old at the time, he was one of Richmond's most impressive young men in his day, a model student and exceptional Scout leader whose character and courtesy cut through the genteel anti-Catholicism of that time and place. He had first felt attracted to a monastic vocation and began his studies at Belmont Abbey Seminary College in North Carolina, with an eye to becoming a Benedictine. During his two years at Belmont Abbey, though, Frank Parater decided to dedicate himself to the diocesan priesthood in a more active ministry, despite his inclinations toward a more contemplative life.

A month after arriving in Rome, Frank Parater wrote the prayer to which my young friend at Campo Verano had referred: "An Act of Oblation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus." It was in fact a spiritual last will and testament, which Parater left in an envelope with instructions to open it only in the event of his death. In his prayer, he offered himself for the conversion of his beloved state:

"I have nothing to leave or give but my life and this I have consecrated to the Sacred Heart to be used as He wills. I have offered my all for the conversion of non-Catholics in Virginia. This is what I live for and in case of death what I die for:…Since my childhood I have wanted to die for God and my neighbor. Shall I have this grace? I do not know, but if I go on living, I shall live for this same purpose; every action of my life here is offered for the spread and success of the Catholic Church in Virginia…I shall be of more service to my diocese in Heaven than I can ever be on earth."

In late January 1920, after just two months in Rome, Frank Parater contracted rheumatism, which developed into rheumatic fever. On January 27 he was taken to a hospital run by the Blue Nuns, where he suffered intense pain for two weeks. When the college spiritual director came to the hospital to give him the Last Rites, Frank Parater wanted to get up from his deathbed to receive his last holy communion keeling; the doctors wouldn't permit it, so he knelt on the bed to receive the Viaticum, the "food for the journey." The college rector offered the votive Mass of the Sacred Heart for Frank Parater on February 6. He died the next day. His prayer was found in his room when a fellow student was gathering up his belongings. Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI both asked for copies of "Frank Parater's Prayer."

Then the world and the Church seemed to move on, although the few who remembered were convinced that Frank Parater was keeping an eye on the Diocese of Richmond from a distance, so to speak. It took another Richmond seminarian, studying in Rome in the 1970's, to bring the Frank Parater story back to life. Having become fascinated by this striking tale during his own studies, Father J. Scott Duarte kept the story in mind after his own ordination and during his graduate studies. Years of Father Duarte's patient research paid off in January 2002, when the Diocese of Richmond officially opened the cause for the beatification of The Servant of God Frank Parater, Seminarian. Thousands of Catholics around the United States are now linked to this cause through a great chain of prayer, asking Frank Parater's intercession for their needs and asking God to bless the cause for his beatification with a miracle.

Frank Parater's story isn't an Everyman story. He died very young; he died heroically, away from home; and in some sense he not only embraced his premature death but anticipated and welcomed it as the best gift he could make of his life. There aren't a lot of us who are going to die that way. Yet for all its singularity, Frank Parater's story is a powerful one, particularly for a generation that often finds commitment difficult. In any case, here we are at Campo Verano at Frank Parater's tomb, which is as good a place as any to think about two questions this young son of Virginia seemingly answered to his own satisfaction before he died eight months short of his twenty-third birthday: Is there any meaning in suffering? Is death the final absurdity?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

St. Scholastica: The Patron Saint Against Storms

We had very violent rainstorms here in Virginia today. Since this is a low lying area, there were many flash floods all over the area. I’m just surprised that the power didn’t go out like it did last month when we had a tropical storm. When the power goes out around here, it goes out- aka, it doesn’t come back on for at least a couple of days.

When realized that one of my favorite Saints, St. Scholastica, happens to be the patroness against storms, I said a prayer asking for her intercession. The rains seemed to have let up for the time being and even more surprising, the power stayed on!

Why is Scholastica the patron saint against storms? Once a year, her twin brother St. Benedict used to visit her and they would have discussions about God all day. When St. Scholastica sensed that her death was imminent, St. Benedict came to visit her and she begged him to stay with her until the next day.

Benedict refused her request because he didn’t want to break his own Rule by spending a night outside the monastery. Scholastica asked God to let her brother remain and a severe thunderstorm broke out, preventing Benedict from returning to the abbey.

Benedict cried out, “God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?” Scholastica replied, “I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it.”

I have confidence that St. Scholastica’s prayers are as effective at making storms fizzle out just as her prayers had the power to create a storm! Thus, for anyone else who is in a similar situation or facing a hurricane, tropical storm, etc., try praying to St. Scholastica!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Pax et Bonum to you all on this glorious day that commemorates the feast of our Holy Father Francis! Nonetheless, today is a blogger's nightmare, simply because there is so much to say about the Seraphic Father! Today, I will let my heart do the talking….and try to couch in words everything that this little tramp from Assisi means to me.

St. Francis of Assisi was one of the wisest men who had ever lived. The word 'wise' seems paradoxical when you consider his life. His father, Pietro Bernadone, toiled all his life so that he could provide his son Francis with what he never had. Indeed, Francis had "everything going for him"- an education, popularity, money, athletic prowess, and a lucrative military, business, and political career ahead of him. But with one bold move in the middle of the public square, Francis threw away everything that "made him something" in the world's eyes…..his money, his last name, even his fashionable clothes. So why on earth did I use the word "wise" to describe him, when he consciously chose to shun any chances that he had for earthly glory?

I don't have the exact quote, but Plato's Socrates said something to the effect that a person is truly wise only when he realizes that he knows nothing. Similarly, Francis was truly wise because he realized that he was nothing without God. Moreover, he recognized that he would be brought to ultimate fulfillment only when he totally emptied himself of all the things that held him back from complete obedience to Christ. Thus, by releasing himself of distractions such as ambition, desire for wealth, the pursuit of pleasure, Francis was among men most truly free! Many saints have used various methods of conveying God's Truth…..Thomas Aquinas taught others about God's love via his writing, Dominic through his preaching, and Francis' very life was a living testament of divine love!

Francis was the 13th-Century counterpart of the "rich young man" from the Gospels, a figure whom most people might think is incapable of being redeemed by Christ. Indeed, St. Francis has been nicknamed "God's juggler" because he took the story of the "rich young man" and turned it on its head, illustrating the great things that God can do when we empty ourselves of everything and open ourselves unto Him entirely. In doing so, this "rich young man" became among the holiest of men!

How can we live out the spirit of poverty promulgated by Holy Father Francis? The way that I have come to think about it is that poverty isn't necessarily always living an ascetic life, but it is rather abandoning yourself entirely at God's mercy without any regard for the material benefits that may or may not be associated with that Divine plan. Spiritual poverty involves a childlike trust that God can and will provide for your needs, despite the fact that following His will is seen as foolish in the world's eyes.

From the perspective of our society and culture, Francis' life is a complete paradox. We're expected to "market ourselves," yet Francis told himself that "God and others must increase, I must decrease." We strive to make more money than anyone else because we think that the things we can buy with it will fulfill us, but Francis realized that only God can provide us with fulfillment. Nonetheless, it is so difficult for us to live our lives based upon the belief that God is our only fulfillment. What made Francis so remarkable was that he had the courage to radically base his entire life upon God's love.

The ideals of our beloved Holy Father Francis were re-affirmed by Pope Benedict XVI in his inauguration homily in April, 2005. Below is an excerpt from the homily:

"If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?....No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation…Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundred-fold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ - and you will find true life. Amen."

Holy Father Francis, intercede for us that we too may be able to 'open wide the doors to Christ!'

Monday, October 02, 2006

St. Francis Countdown: "Francis of Assisi" vs. "Brother Sun, Sister Moon"

"Brother Sun, Sister Moon" (1972)
"Francis of Assisi" (1961)

In preparation for my annual St. Francis Day party on Wednesday, I was trying to decide between the two English-language films about the Seraphic Father- the popular 1972 Franco Zefirelli "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" and 1961's "Francis of Assisi." Unless anyone out there can make a quality film about St. Francis within the next two days, I pretty much have to decide between the two. It's definitely a hard pick, because both films have their pros and cons.

Until I watched "Francis of Assisi," I was a little bit harsh in my critique of "Brother Sun, Sister Moon." Indeed, "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" has the flaw of being like cotton-candy- sweet to taste, but it doesn't have much substance. The audience is left to guess what is going on inside Francis' head when he decides to give his life completely to God….and of course, the audience must guess about the "God" part, too, since God isn't mentioned very much in the film. The characters are rather one-dimensional- Clare is the flighty "flower child", Pietro Bernadone is "corrupt," and so on and so forth. Moreover, many have criticized the film for portraying Francis and his followers as a gaggle of "hippies."

I. Clare’s Role

Just as "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" was a sign on the times in which it was made, "Francis of Assisi" is also reflective of late 50s/early 60s moviemaking. "Francis of Assisi" plays like a typical 60s overwrought costume-drama, especially during the first forty-five minutes.
Until about halfway through the film, I was irked about how Clare is reduced to nothing more than a static figure in a love-triangle…..and God isn't one of the parties in that love triangle.\n Francis makes comments such as "I've always been in love with Clare," which would lead one to think that her vocation is nothing more than attempt to be with Francis. Nonetheless, Dolores Hart, the actress who plays Clare, rescues her role about halfway through the film and when she begins to discern her vocation to become a nun, the fact that she was initially portrayed as a flighty "lady in waiting" begins to make sense. When Clare hears Francis preach on Palm Sunday and decides that she wants to become a nun, she realizes that a life dedicated to God will free her from the constraining life of a noblewoman. She is shown deep in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament as she discerns her vocation. While "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" presents us with the joyful and childlike Clare (which in themselves are beautiful traits), "Francis of Assisi's" Dolores Hart presents us with a prayerful, thoughtful Clare. The scene of Clare's investiture in "Francis of Assisi" is very detailed and beautiful- she is shown chopping off her hair and receiving the Franciscan habit….which, unlike the "bathrobe" that Clare wears in "Brother Sun, Sister Moon," is a genuine Franciscan nun's habit not unlike the habits that Poor Clares wear today. I also like the way that "Francis of Assisi" establishes that Clare is a cloistered nun.

Until about halfway through the film, I was irked about how Clare is reduced to nothing more than a static figure in a love-triangle…..and God isn't one of the parties in that love triangle. Francis makes comments such as "I've always been in love with Clare," which would lead one to think that her vocation is nothing more than attempt to be with Francis.

Nonetheless, Dolores Hart, the actress who plays Clare, rescues her role about halfway through the film. When she begins to discern her vocation to become a nun, the fact that she was initially portrayed as a flighty "lady in waiting" begins to make sense. When Clare hears Francis preach on Palm Sunday and decides that she wants to become a nun, she realizes that a life dedicated to God will free her from the constraining life of a noblewoman. She is shown deep in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament as she discerns her vocation. While "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" presents us with the joyful and childlike Clare (which in themselves are beautiful traits), "Francis of Assisi's" Dolores Hart presents us with a prayerful, thoughtful Clare. As mentioned in one of my previous posts, playing St. Clare in this movie prompted the real-life Dolores Hart to explore the contemplative life. She ultimately joined Regina Laudis Abbey, a lovely community of Benedictines in Connecticut, where she is now an abbess.

The scene of Clare's investiture in "Francis of Assisi" is very detailed and beautiful- she is shown chopping off her hair and receiving the Franciscan habit….which, unlike the "bathrobe" that Clare wears in "Brother Sun, Sister Moon," is a genuine Franciscan nun's habit not unlike the habits that Poor Clares wear today. Also interesting about this scene is that not only are Francis and his followers present, but the Benedictine nuns of a nearby abbey assist Clare in making her vows. This affirms the beautiful connection that the Poor Clares have with the Benedictines and was perhaps even a foreshadowing of Dolores Hart becoming a Benedictine! I also like the way that "Francis of Assisi" establishes that Clare is a cloistered nun after her investiture. In one beautiful line, Clare tells Francis, “you said that my path ahead of me would be strewn with thorns….but I’ve discovered that my life is filled with nothing but joy!”

II. Francis in Both Films

Why did Francis do what he did? It’s a question we might never be able to answer, but neither “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” or “Francis of Assisi” helps us in finding an explanation. The way in which Francis decides to give up his possessions in both movies is very different:

The better half of “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” focuses almost entirely on the period between Francis returning home from the war and publicly denouncing his material possessions. If you’ve watched “Brother Sun” as much as I have, you’ll notice that Francis hardly speaks at all during this part of the movie- it’s implied that he’s having what the world might construe as a “nervous breakdown.” That is, he realizes that his previous worldview just doesn’t work anymore. For the most part, I think that the “nervous breakdown” approach is very realistic and touching….but except for a few glances at the crucifix, the audience is left to guess whether or not God has anything to do with Francis’ decision.

Meanwhile, “Francis of Assisi” doesn’t bring any personal struggles into the picture of Francis’ discernment. In one battle scene, the background noise is muted and you hear the “voice of God” literally say “Francis, put away your sword and return to Assisi.” Faithfully, Francis listens. Nonetheless, this Charlton-Heston-esque “voice of God” is really the only time where God is factored into Francis’ decision. The audience doesn’t get the sense that Francis is “falling in love with God” in order to come to his decision. Thus, Francis’ character comes off as a bit one-dimensional during this part of the movie.

The biggest bone that I have to pick with “Francis of Assisi” is that the film completely erases any struggle that Francis had with his father, Pietro Bernadone. In reality, Pietro Bernadone was so furious with Francis for having “gone crazy” that he dragged his son before the Bishop of Assisi and tried to force him to publicly apologize. This was when Francis famously stripped off his clothing in the public square, renounced his father’s last name, and officially becomes Francis of Assisi. This scene is the focal point of “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”- no matter what you think of the rest of the film, I promise you that the scene in the public square will move you to tears. However, not only does the film “Francis of Assisi” omit this important turning point in St. Francis’ life, but it portrays Francis parting with his parents on friendly terms! Why is this such a big deal? We must realize that not only did Francis relinquish material goods, but he also gave up loyalty to his own parents in order to follow God more fully- we might be able to part with material possessions, but it is so incredibly difficult for us to choose God over those on earth whom we love so much.
“Brother Sun, Sister Moon” delves deeper into the relationship that Francis had with his early followers- the film explores why each of them chose to forsake their lives as nobleman in order to follow the little tramp of Assisi. While by the end of “Brother Sun,” Francis has only attracted about twelve followers, you feel as though you know who they are.

Since “Francis of Assisi” provides an overview of Francis’ entire life, we see his followers exponentially grow into an international movement. Hence, the audience doesn’t get to “know” any of his fellow brothers- we are left to guess why they follow him. Nonetheless, we are provided with an excellent picture of the way Francis had to struggle against Brother Elias and those who called themselves his “followers”….but who completely wanted to forsake his rule of poverty. The way that Francis is so gentle and faithful to the Gospel in the midst of this strife is very moving.

“Francis of Assisi” also delves into Francis’ later years, which we don’t see in “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” The blessing of the animals and children is touching, as his Francis’ unconditional love towards the lepers. I particularly liked the scene when Francis visits the Saracens- it’s particularly relevant for this day and age. Here, we see Francis as acting very peacefully towards the Saracens but at the same time never relinquishing his faith in Christ’s redemption and the Truth of the Church. This stalwart faith is shown when he challenges the Saracens to a “trial by fire”- something that modern synopses of Francis’ life often forget to talk about. Nonetheless, this whole part of the movie illustrates that Francis had an unconditional love towards others that was founded in Christ.

The receiving of the stigmata is also a very beautiful scene in “Francis of Assisi.” When he climbs up to Mount Alverno, Francis is ill and his patience has been tried by his brothers. He begs to unite all of his sufferings with the sufferings of Christ and live out the rest of his life as a penance for the world- the ultimate act of love. Thus, the film establishes valid reasons for his being given the stigmata…..quite a lofty accomplishment for an early 60s costume drama!

So after writing this post of Proustian-proportions, you might be asking….have a come to a decision as to what movie to show at my party on Wednesday? Francis is such a complex figure and it’s impossible for any one movie to capture everything about him, so what movie to show really depends on the audience. For a “party movie,” I think I’d recommend “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”- it effectively captures the joyful, youthful Francis who longs for something more than what his society can offer him. However, for a more comprehensive look at Francis’ life and works, I recommend showing “Francis of Assisi.” I’d especially recommend showing “Francis of Assisi” to people who don’t know much about his life. Moreover, if you’re trying to introduce people to St. Clare, “Francis of Assisi” presents a much more prayerful, thoughtful young woman than does “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.”

Oh yeah, and one more thing I like about the 1961 film “Francis of Assisi”…..instead of the words “The End” showing up on the screen at the film’s finale, the screen reads “Pax et Bonum!”

Sunday, October 01, 2006

St. Francis Countdown: Chesterton's "Jongleur de Dieu"

G.K. Chesterton's Life of St. Francis of Assisi is a monumental biography of the Seraphic Father. While it isn't exactly a chronological biography, Chesterton skillfully provides spiritual reflections on important events in Francis' life. In the introduction to the book, Chesterton's attempts to figure out why Francis did what he did is compared to a game of "cat and mouse." The fact is that no one can completely comprehend all of the reasons why Francis chose to live a life radically dedicated to God. However, Chesterton seems to come very close to catching the mouse by it's tail. What is especially remarkable about this book is that Chesterton reconciles the "real" Francis with the tree-hugging, granola chewing, proto-hippie that the "moderns" make him out to be.

Below is an excerpt from one of the many enjoyable chapters from Chesterton's Life of St. Francis of Assisi:

Le Jongleur de Dieu

..The conversion of St. Francis, like the conversion of St. Paul, involved his being in some sense flung suddenly from a horse; but in a sense it was an even worse fall; for it was a war-horse. Anyhow, there was not a rag of him left that was not ridiculous. Everybody knew that at the best he had made a fool of himself. It was a solid objective fact, like the stones in the road, that he had made a fool of himself. He saw himself as an object, very small and distinct like a fly walking on a clear window pane; and it was unmistakably a fool. And as he stared at the word "fool" written in luminous letters before him, the word itself began to shine and change.
We used to be told in the nursery that if a man were to bore a hole through the centre of the earth and climb continually down and down, there would come a moment at the centre when he would seem to be climbing up and up. I do not know whether this is true. The reason I do not know whether it is true is that I never happened to bore a hole through the centre of the earth, still less to crawl through it. If I do not know what this reversal or inversion feels like, it is because I have never been there.
And this also is an allegory. It is certain that the writer, it is even possible that the reader, is an ordinary person who has never been there. We cannot follow St. Francis to that final spiritual overturn in which complete humiliation becomes complete holiness or happiness, because we have never been there.....
We have never gone up like that because we have never gone down like that; we are obviously incapable of saying that it does not happen; and the more candidly and calmly we read human history, and especially the history of the wisest men, the more we shall come to the conclusion that it does happen. Of the intrinsic internal essence of the experience, I make no pretence of writing at all. But the external effect of it, for the purpose of this narrative, may be expressed by saying that when Francis came forth from his cave of vision, he was wearing the same word "fool' as a feather in his cap; as a crest or even a crown. He would go on being a fool; be would become more and more of a fool; he would be the court fool of the King of Paradise.
This state can only be represented in symbol; but the symbol of inversion is true in in aother way. If a man saw the world upside down, with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards as in a pool, one effect would be to emphasise the idea of dependence. There is a Latin and literal connection; for the very word dependence only means hanging. It would make vivid the Scriptural text which says that God has hung the world upon nothing.
If St. Francis had seen, in one of his strange dreams, the town of Assisi upside down, it need not have differed in a single detail from itself except in being entirely the other way round. But the point is this: that whereas to the normal eye the large masonry of its walls or the massive foundations of its watchtowers and its high citadel would make it seem safer and more permanent, the moment it was turned over the very same weight would make it seem more helpless and more in peril. It is but a symbol; but it happens to fit the psychological fact.
St. Francis might love his little town as much as before, or more than before; but the nature of the love would be altered even in being increased. He might see and love every tile on the steep roofs or every bird on the battlements; but he would see them all in a new and divine light of eternal danger and dependence. Instead of being merely proud of his strong city because it could not be moved, he would be thankful to God Almighty that it had not been dropped; he would be thankful to God for not dropping the whole cosmos like a vast crystal to be shattered into falling stars. Perhaps St. Peter saw the world so, when he was crucified head-downwards.
It is commonly in a somewhat cynical sense that men have said, 'Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed." It was in a wholly happy and enthusiastic sense that St. Francis said, "Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall enjoy everything."
It was by this deliberate idea of starting from zero, from the dark nothingness of his own deserts, that he did come to enjoy even earthly things as few people have enjoyed them; and they are in themselves the best working example of the idea. For there is no way in which a man can earn a star or deserve a sunset. But there is more than this involved, and more indeed than is easily to be expressed in words. It is not only true that the less a man thinks of himself, the more he thinks of his good luck and of all the gifts of God.
It is also true that he sees more of the things themselves when he sees more of their origin; for their origin is a part of them and indeed the most important part of them. Thus they become more extraordinary by being explained. He has more wonder at them but less fear of them; for a thing is really wonderful when it is significant and not when it is insignificant; and a monster, shapeless or dumb or merely destructive, may be larger than the mountains, but is still in a literal sense insignificant. For a mystic like St. Francis the monsters had a meaning; that is, they had delivered their message. They spoke no longer in an unknown tongue. That is the meaning of all those stories, whether legendary or historical, in which he appears as a magician speaking the language of beasts and birds. The mystic will have nothing to do with mere mystery; mere mystery is generally a mystery of iniquity.
The transition from the good man to the saint is a sort of revolution; by which one for whom all things illustrate and illuminate God becomes one for whom God illustrates and illuminates all things. It is rather like the reversal whereby a lover might say at first sight that a lady looked like a flower, and say afterwards that all flowers reminded him of his lady. A saint and a poet standing by the same flower might seem to say the same thing; but indeed though they would both be telling the truth, they would be telling different truths.
For one the joy of life is a cause of faith, for the other rather a result of faith. But one effect of the difference is that the sense of a divine dependence, which for the artist is like the brilliant levin-blaze, for the saint is like the broad daylight. Being in some mystical sense on the other side of things, he sees things go forth from the divine as children going forth from a familiar and accepted home, instead of meeting them as they come out, as most of us do, upon the roads of the world. And it is the paradox that by this privilege be is more familiar, more free and fraternal, more carelessly hospitable than we.
For us the elements are like heralds who tell us with trumpet and tabard that we are drawing near the city of a great king; but he hails them with an old familiarity that is almost an old frivolity. He calls them his Brother Fire and his Sister Water.
So arises out of this almost nihilistic abyss the noble thing that is called Praise; which no one will ever understand while he identifies it with nature worship or pantheistic optimism. When we say that a poet praises the whole creation, we commonly mean only that he praises the whole cosmos. But this sort of poet does really praise creation, in the sense of the act of creation. He praises the passage or transition from nonentity to entity; there falls here also the shadow of that archetypal image of the bridge, which has given to the priest his archaic and mysterious name.
The mystic who passes through the moment when there is nothing but God does in some sense behold the beginningless beginnings in which there was really nothing else. He not only appreciates everything but the nothing of which everything was made. In a fashion be endures and answers even the earthquake irony of the Book of Job; in some sense he is there when the foundations of the world are laid, with the morning stars singing together and the sons of God shouting for joy. That is but a distant adumbration of the reason why the Franciscan, ragged, penniless, homeless and apparently hopeless, did indeed come forth singing such songs as might come from the stars of morning; and shouting, a son of God.
This sense of the great gratitude and the sublime dependence was not a phrase or even a sentiment; it is the whole point that this was the very rock of reality. It was not a fancy but a fact; rather it is true that beside it all facts are fancies. That we all depend in every detail, at every instant, as a Christian would say upon God, as even an agnostic would say, upon existence and the nature of things, is not an illusion of imagination; on the contrary, it is the fundamental fact which we cover up, as with curtains, with the illusion of ordinary life. That ordinary life is an admirable thing in itself, just as imagination is an admirable thing in itself. But it is much more the ordinary life that is made of imagination than the contemplative life. He who has seen the whole world hanging on a hair of the mercy of God has seen the truth; we might almost say the cold truth. He who has seen the vision of his city upside-down has seen it the right way up...."

<< # St. Blog's Parish ? >>