Chesterson argues that the only way to explain the irrational exuberance of St Francis is to see him as a man in love. When Francis hands back all his possessions to his human father, and walks semi-naked into the snow, with no shoes, no-where to go, no shelter from the elements, he broke into song. Following this St Francis wore the cast away clothes of a poor peasant, he ate the refuse from peasant's tables, and cared not about any of these things – just as a man in the first throes of love cares for nothing in the world beyond his lover.
The love of St Francis captivated many of his generation - within a few years of him adopting his cast-off clothes and carelessly draping a rope around them thousands of other men – young and old - could be seen wearing the same uniform. Something about him was so compelling that even wealthy and powerful men left their positions and gave all they had to the poor. Francis’ call to poverty and service appealed not only to men, but to women, for which Clare is an example. It seems that St Francis could perhaps fairly be called a kind of 12th century pop phenomenon.
Perhaps sensing the change in Francis as he began to turn away from the bawdy behaviour and revelry of his peers, his friends asked him laughingly if he were thinking of marrying, he answered "Yes, a fairer bride than any you have ever seen". Perhaps he meant his “Lady Poverty”, perhaps he meant Christ, perhaps he meant both. Or perhaps he meant all men and women, as he ‘husbanded’ them all: caring for the poor and the lepers with great humility.
The life of St Francis embodied and demonstrated the love and simplicity that so many Christian sages have talked about. And I find the great beauty of this example, is that he was not God, he was a man like any other, who provided the consummate example of how a mortal could aspire to Godliness. That no matter what weaknesses and past mistakes you have made, in the end none of this should matter, nothing can stop you from at any point in your life following the example of Francis, at least his example of love, humility and service; and that a human, anyone of us – man or woman – can aspire to Christ’s example. It is not beyond us, as so many thousands discovered in the 12th Century. And as St Francis himself confessed:
"I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, He can work through anyone.”
“We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to every human being for God's sake”.
- Francis of Assisi
"We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others."
--St. Clare of Assisi
*an acknowledgement to Chesterson whose influence can no doubt be detected in this writing.