St. Francis Speaks to Me

Although not Christian, I have often wondered about one particular Catholic Saint. I was raised Protestant, so I was discouraged from wondering about the Church, its’ teachings, and its iconography. I remember after losing faith in Protestantism I spent time at the Catholic Kansas New University just across the street from the base school I attended, Friends University. At that time I was unsure of what I believed in, but I used to sit in the room devoted to statues of the Virgin Mary from around the world. I also attended Mass twice, one low Mass and one Interfaith Mass. I always felt that though Catholic theology necessitated a hell, it was not the focus of their faith. That was why I preferred it. However, I could not see converting to it. Anyway, I have always been curious about the Catholic Church, up to buying (but not reading) a copy of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, four volumes for a dollar apiece. The Saint I find most intriguing is St. Francis. There are others–I read about a French noblewoman who abandoned her “frivolous” lifestyle to set up a school for impoverished young French girls. I forget her name, but I was intrigued by her story. And of course, who can’t thrill to Joan of Arc? I hope someday the Church makes Mother Teresa a saint. Of course, it is almost blasphemous for a Jew to say that.

That said, when I first started converting to Judaism, I had to make the adjustment, “What am I taking with me and what am I leaving behind?” belief wise. The one thing I did not want to leave behind from Christianity was its focus on “Charity,” the belief that–to quote St. Francis–“it is better to love than be loved.” The idea that perfect giving is that which asks no return. I was told, by the teacher–admittedly she was not Jewish–that “Jews have Charity, too” and I know there is the line in the Talmud saying that Jews should show compassion for “the Jewish and the Gentile poor.” There are even levels of Charity, whether giving to a beggar, working at a charity, or giving charity anonymously. So I prefer to believe that the Christian idea of Charity grew up from the Jewish idea of tzedakah. Anyway, back to St. Francis.

I love reading St. Francis’ “Prayer of Peace,” a prayer of God’s loving all living things through us. And so I will quote it here:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

I particularly love those words I have seldom lived up to,

[G]rant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love.

I recall a story about St. Francis and a wolf. St. Francis was told by some villagers that the Wolf was ravaging their sheep. So St. Francis said he would try to talk to it. He went into the woods and had a kindly conversation with the Wolf. They agreed that he would find food for the Wolf and the Wolf would leave the villager’s sheep alone. The story is no doubt apocryphal (and reminds me of that poor cow I ate part of tonight), but it shows that St. Francis at his best… Loving an unloved creature gently and without judgment.

Now, I know it sounds un-Jewish to gush so about a Catholic monk. Yet we Jews have our St. Francis, whom I have only studied a little bit about him: the Baal Shem Tov, who loved the mountains and the springs, and taught that devout love was born of the heart. Colloquially known as the Besht, he was somebody whom even non-Hasids like me can appreciate.

Published by hadassahalderson

I am a professional author who lives in Wichita, KS. I went to Friends University and spent one year at Claremont Graduate University. My published work includes: The Bible According to Eve I-IV and Faust in Love.

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