12 October 2016

Could there ever be another Francis?




Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’
- Jonah 2:8-9


He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.
- Luke 9:2-3


The line from St Luke - as it’s recorded in Matthew, anyway - was the Gospel reading the day Giovanni di Bernadone was praying for guidance in starting his new community.  Giovanni is better known by his family’s nickname for him: Francesco or Francis.  Outside of Orthodoxy he’s one of the most-beloved of all Saints, regardless of one’s denomination.  He is, however, loved more for a near-mythological reading of a few highpoints of his life, turned into a sort of peace and furry animals sort of hippie icon.  Thus, the Francis one might find, for example, in the local protestant congregation will be all about blessing your fluffy kitteh but nothing at all about his Fanatical Devotion to the Pope, his radical deepening of the western tradition’s fasting rules, or the preeminent place he gave to the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Francis, like the Gospel, is a la carte these days.  That line cuts to the point I wanted to make, rather directly.


How can we live the full, radical Gospel in the world today? Would there be room, if you will, for a new Francis?  It might surprise you to hear that I feel this is not a Church question: it’s a State question.  


Francis gave away all his money and slept in a ruined church (with the permission of the priest involved).  He’d surely be evicted today, if not by the police then by the building department.  Francis fed the hungry freely (not legal in many cities) and took care of the ill and weak. I can hear the Department of Health and the Obamacare people demanding he register here and there and take insurance and whatall.  Francis begged from the townspeople to take care of his monastics and their guests. We can, I admit, get some donations legally today, but, really, it helps if you’re a 501(c)3 or some other sort of registered charity. People want to get their tax write-offs you know.  And of course, registering with the gov’t means that you’re beholden to them. Even now people are agitating to have tax exempt status removed from Churches and - more importantly - Church land. Imagine how many doors would close if there was not tax free status! I agree, mind you: owning property is an obligation to the state. Francis’ Mendicant Friars would, today, be call indigent as would Jesus and thus would promptly get arrested in most places; or at least told to move along. Getting rid of all your earthly belongings was fine in the Great Depression. Could you do it today? This doesn’t even get into the Question of Support. Even assuming it’s legal, would your local church support you?  See all of the above about the laws.  I don’t know the answer.  

What I do know - going back to our essay on Monday about idols - is that clinging to idols is turning away from God. Salvation comes from the Lord. In Hebrew it’s a bit of a pun for us, for the Hebrew word is “Yeshua” - Jesus’ own name. If we Christians, and we the institution of Church have built or helped in building a culture where it’s impossible to live the Gospel, whose fault is it? If we imagine we can’t be Christians without our tax exempt status or our beautiful churches, what have we done? If we lean on such things - to the point even of denying the Gospel - then have we not turned to idols? Worse, have we not built the idols with our own hands?

This line of thinking is not about fleeing from the culture: Jonah made that mistake.  Got eaten by a fish for it. This is about something more radical. This is about reform, not by revolution, but by living.  So the question is: can the space be found?