I read today about how, after searching out whether God called to him to preach or pray, when given the answer, St Francis ran out and preached the gospel first of all to a large flock of birds of various kinds, who listened with reverence and perhaps even true piety. “My brother birds,” he said, “you should greatly praise your Creator, who clothed you with feathers, gave you wings for flight, confided to you purity of the air, and governs you without your least care.” As he spoke, they listened actively, fluttering about in a wonderful way, stretching their necks, spreading their wings, opening their beaks and looking at him. ‘He passed through their midst with amazing fervour of spirit, touching them with his tunic.’ And at the end of it all, he reproached himself for not preaching to the birds sooner!
What really strikes me here, is his incredible boldness. Francis walks in a different world to me, a world where the most extraordinary things can be taken for granted, simply because God is with him. He doesn’t doubt or hesitate: God is with him.
This story isn’t even the best demonstration of this bold confidence. There is the time he was faced with a man-eating wolf. Where I would quickly rack my brains and try say my “best prayer”, Francis simply makes the sign of the cross, and immediately makes peace. Or when Francis was offered chicken on a Friday (he couldn’t eat chicken on a Friday, but also must “accept whatever you are given” [Lk 10:8]). I can’t imagine what sophistry I would use, but Francis simply makes the sign of the cross over it, and it comes back to life and flies away!
In fact, this boldness characterises his whole life. As soon as he receives God’s call, he jumps to action, no questions asked (meaning he didn’t fully understand a couple of times). He is defiantly “unrealistic” in his way of life, and that of his followers too. They live firmly in the knowledge that they can never trust him too much, and never love him too much.
St. Francis is the most exciting saint I’m aware of, because he’s a madman running head first into God.
I pray that I may live with bold confidence in God, just like St Francis.
God bless you!
P.S. I was reading from the Major Life of Saint Francis by St. Bonaventure, in Such is the Power of Love