Reading the life of St. Francis, one discovers quite early on, that there is nothing at all subtle about him. "Extreme" and "explicit" are two words that easily apply to him, to the life that he led, and to his relationship with the Divine Beloved. His marriage vows to "Lady Poverty" reveal as much about us, as about him: "extreme" as his devotion to holy simplicity was, our "horror" in considering the requirements of justice place us "extremely distant" from the teachings of Master Yeshua (Jesus).
"Lady Poverty" and a radical simplicity is one thing, easily glossed over because, after all, Francis was a "saint", so we should expect a definite degree of weirdness. But what is most stunning and intimidating in the life of Francis is his very "explicit love"! Now, we usually apply the word "explicit" to movies, books, art, and song lyrics that "explicitly depict or describe" naked human bodies and human sexuality. We barely bat an eye in reading that Francis, early on, strips off his clothing, drops them in front of his local Bishop, and strolls through Assisi, heading who-knows-where, stark naked. "Free", in every sense of the word, and poetically "as the breeze." This scene is more than a hint of his "explicit love"...
St. Francis lived in a lovers' union with the Divine Beloved. He was not content with the "legitimate worship" current in his day. His insight into the Sacred Story of Yeshua compelled a radical identification with him, but more, it was the identification of lover-to-lover: not as a theological virtue or a comfortable trick. Perplexed, if you will, with the evident absence of Jesus in the Church, in the marketplace, and in the ordinary lives of the ordinary faithful, Francis rushed to the distant margins of both society and sanity...
What was at the margins? Why, of course, it was "Good Lady Poverty" evident in the hideous, rotting, stinking bodies of the leper poor. Francis proceeded to hold them, care for them, and caress them as to his bride: as to his Divine Beloved, Yeshua, revered as Jesus, as Brother... as Lover... From this point of contact, Francis jumped "whole-hog" as it were, into a wild and "explicit love". Preaching, garbed only in his underwear, in the Cathedral: why not? Rolling naked in the snow and building a "snowman" family of wife and children: why not? Preaching to birds and wolves: why not? Everyone one and every thing were embraced by Francis in his ever-expanding heart: wouldn't you agree that his was an audacious "explicit love"?
If we give any attention, these days, to one such as St. Francis of Assisi, that attention is most often in thinking of him as a comfortable, middle-class, garden statue. (Such a statue stands in our garden!) But confining the meaning of Francis to a garden statue confuses his very sacred example. To understand Francis requires that we contemplate, very intentionally. We might begin with this quotation from Simone Weil: "We were created by Love, for Love, to become Love." This is exactly it! In other words, the witness of St. Francis is the continuing challenge to first expand, and then to finally remove, the limits we place upon our love: looking to the margins, we can find our way into the spirit of Francis, living still, in the homeless, the migrant, the oppressed, and the forgotten...
St. Francis attached his flesh, his blood, and his bones to the self-emptying love of his Divine Beloved. And that is why he continues to be so very dangerous, especially to the people who want to build walls around the limits they assign to their imaginations, their possibilities, and to their love... How we resolve these staggering limitations could very well decide the future of both the USA and to this precious blue Planet...
Robert Daniel Smith was privileged to serve the homeless and marginalized for 30 years in Salinas, California. Together with his wife, Michelle, they founded an intentional community called the 'Companions of the Way', also in Salinas. Robert and Michelle are community organizers, Catholic Worker renegades, sacred activists, writers, poets, artists, Divine Mother devotees, and practitioners of Kriya Yoga as taught by Rev. Ellen Grace O'Brian of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment. Michelle is also a Montessori public school teacher. Robert is also an ordained Interfaith Minister.