Rorate Caeli

A Meditation on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi


Each age has its own distortion of God, what people imagine Him to be.  This present age, at least in these United States among Catholics, is tempted to romanticize God, make Him warm and fuzzy, and in that way really neutralize His presence in one’s personal life.  It is almost a Catholic way of secularizing God.  God has become the product of the community, a predictable pet—yes, still a powerful pet, someone beyond the sunset, but still in His box, and that box we keep Him in is called "the community".  Those many passages in the Old Testament that speak of the wildness of God, of the unpredictability of God, of the God who is a jealous God, the God who is the judge of all, the God who displays wrath: any of these attributes of God that we find unpleasant or threatening to our religious complacency and happiness are denied, and we say:  Oh, that is not MY God!” Or, “We have out-grown that picture of God.  All that stuff is the God of the Old Testament. The New Testament God is very different, much more likable, more lovable. Jesus’ God is quite different: a God of mercy, of compassion, of love.”

What nonsense!  As if the God of the Old Testament is not a God of compassion, mercy and love who deals with his chosen People as a true Father;  as if the God of Jesus is not the God who led his people out of slavery, as well the God who struck down those who dared to touch the sacred Ark! The time after the Second Vatican Council was marked by an iconoclasm not seen since the Protestant Reformation, when images of saints were carried out of churches and put into dumpsters, for these men and women who knew God intimately, who were seized by God as He is, no longer had a place in a protestantized Church of “Jesus and me and no one else.”  The passion of the Saints, their erratic and strange behavior, their refusal to conform to the world, their refusal to be normal as the world defines that word, those men and women who are witnesses of what it means to be seized by the living God and to be transformed so radically that the world falls away as dross and the only desire one has is to love the God whose burning love lives in one’s heart: these men and women are hard to take.  

After that period of iconoclasm we decided that we could allow the saints back into our churches, but only after they have been tamed.  And so we find ourselves with a St. Francis who decorates bird baths, a St. Francis who is emasculated and turned into some sort of cross between Johnny Appleseed and Mr. Rogers.  What happened to the real man who threw himself into the thorn bushes to control his lust, who pummeled his body with fasting and physical penance, who went up onto that mountain and in prayer received the Stigmata, the wounds of Christ that bled and pained him for the rest of his life until his death, those wounds that are the mark of the God of infinite love?  This St. Francis, the real man of the twelfth century, reminds us all too really of what happens when we not only take God seriously but also when we allow Him to live in us, when we give over our will to Him.

From Adrienne von Speyr:

I saw St. Francis at first in his old age, at prayer and sickly, of an indescribable cheerfulness and purity and humility. Everything in him, everything that constituted his life, all his difficulties, are now transfigured and have become translucent. And this happened through prayer. The things that occupy him no longer contain anything at all that is purely personal, not a trace of annoyance or injury or resentment for the unjust things inflicted on him. God alone is left, as well as perfect service in the indescribable happiness of one who serves and in uninterrupted contemplation.

Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla