Sale on canvas prints! Use code ABCXYZ at checkout for a special discount!
Seraphic Father Francis (1182- 1226)
“...he was always occupied with Jesus;
Jesus he bore in his heart, Jesus in his mouth,
Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his ears, and in
his entire body; Jesus.”
1 Celano 115
I like to say that as far as the Gospels go, St Francis is the only true fundamentalist that has ever lived. After his conversion at age 25, he attempted to copy Jesus in the most deeply loving and radical ways. This lasted up until the evening of his death; sunset 3 October 1226. It is also why he was given the titles the Alter Christus (Another Christ), the Mirror of Christ, and Seraphic Father Francis.
My love of St Francis goes back as far as I can remember. At a very young age my parents traveled to San Francisco and brought me back a white porcelain statue of a beardless Francis his arms extended and covered with birds. Unconsciously I was taught that a man who could attract birds to rest on his arms had so much love that the little creatures, normally afraid of humans, felt no such fear with Francis. So similar to the very few male saints holding the Christ Child, (Joseph, Anthony, Cajetan, Stanislaus, Bernardino Realino ...) show the tenderness of a loving father. I think that’s part of the reason Anthony is the world’s favorite saint. You look at him and believe he is so approachable cradling the Child in his arms, that he will naturally intercede for you.
Two years before he died, 15 August 1224, Francis climbed the mesa of Mt La Verna, 90 miles north of Assisi, to bemoan his failures. He had prayed for 2 final graces. That he might know and feel the pain of the Crucified Lord, and that he might understand the love it took for Jesus to forgive all those who had rejected him and cried out for his Crucifixion. Then around the time of the feast of the Holy Cross, Francis received an apparition that no other human being had seen before or since. It was a Seraph who was also the Crucified Christ.
This was the beautiful and somewhat terrifying vision and answer to his prayers. From the Crucified Christ he received the five wounds and from the Seraph, (the highest form of Angelic love) he understood the love Jesus had to forgive as he was dying a horrible and painful death. The account in The Five Considerations on the Stigmata (considered one of the most beautiful pieces ever written in all of Italian literature) says the from the Cross Jesus smiled at Francis and gazed at him with a most loving gaze. Very early in my iconographic apprenticeship, I was commissioned to paint/write an icon of Francis. So I was eager to join Francis’s two graces in one image. This icon is my attempt . In a world tearing us apart with increasing, even daily, ever new divisions, I am offering this icon for contemplation. No one wants to live in hate and anger, and yet that’s what we are urged to do. We are getting exhausted, triggered by the least little thing and then striking out at those we love. Tonight I was watching an interview on tv with a man who spoke of his recently separated/divided family as everyone, being increasingly, overwhelmingly sad.
To find some hope for the soul and lasting love, I revisited (on Audible) a book I’d read at 20 years old; Viktor Frankl’s classic about his survival in the German concentration camp of Auschwitz, “Man’s Search For Meaning.” In a chilling sentence in the book he says “the best of us did not survive.” And yet I think of him as one of the best human beings I have ever let in, or read about. But I know exactly what he means from - the ruthlessness and frigid callousness I see every day. He never spiritualizes in a glib way, the immense suffering he lived through. He takes you into the depth of the horrors he lived through and how he came out still human. How do we stay human and compassionate in this world ? The Cross, the Gospels, the Wounds, Francis of Assisi, have always invited us to another way. And it’s no accident that living in this time, God has given us Pope Francis.
And finally I will invite you to listen to a true masterpiece of music released in 1981 which I think, personally, “channels” the life of Francis, “Troubadour of the Great King.” It was a double record in 1981, with the London Symphony, released for the anniversary of the birth of Francis 800 years ago, and now available as a cd by John Michael Talbot. During this “season of St Francis” I can’t think of anything more deeply spiritual, joyful, painfully poignant or life giving than this truly inspired music.
“Most High and Glorious God
Bring light to the darkness of my heart.
Give me right faith, certain hope and
Lord give me insight and wisdom
So I might always discern your
Holy and true will.”
St Francis from the cd Troubadour of the Great King
Fr William Hart McNichols for the Season of St Francis 💮 2020