The Upside-Down World of St. Francis

Today, we’ll celebrate the feast of Saint Francis.


This morning I’m going to the village of Delicias, Concepción, to celebrate their feast day. They are planning a procession (despite the rain) followed by Mass.

After Mass, I plan to rush off to La Entrada to celebrate the feast with lunch with the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters here in Honduras. (Yesterday I spent the afternoon cleaning the kitchen and baking bread.)

I don’t know if Padre German will have me preach in Delicias, though he has two other Masses today. But I’ve something prepared.

There is a passage in G. K. Chesterton’s Saint Francis of Assisi that inspires my thoughts this morning.

If a man saw the world upside down, with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards as in a pool, one effect would be to emphasize the idea of dependence. There is a Latin and literal connection; for the very word dependence only means hanging. It would make vivid the Scriptural text which says that God has hanged the world upon nothing. If St. Francis saw in one of his strange dreams, the town of Assisi upside down, it need not have differed in a single detail from itself except in being entirely the other way round. But the point is this: that whereas to the normal eye the large masonry of its walls or the massive foundations of its watchtowers and its high citadel would make it seem safer and more permanent, the moment it was turned over the very same weight would make it seem more helpless and more in peril. It is but a symbol; but it happens to fit the psychological fact. St. Francis might love his little town as much as before, or more than before; but the nature of the love would be altered even in being increased. He might see and love every tile on the steep roofs or every bird on the battlements; but he would see them all in a new and divine light of eternal danger and dependence. Instead of being merely proud of his strong city because it could not be moved, he would be thankful to God Almighty that it had not been dropped; he would be thankful to God for not dropping the whole cosmos like a vast crystal to be shattered into falling stars. Perhaps St. Peter saw the world so, when he was crucified head-downwards.

I had thought of beginning to preach standing on my head – but I am not sure if I can do that well.

But Francis turned the world upside down.

The Gospel in the Franciscan lectionary is Matthew 11: 25-30: “The Father has hidden these things from the learned and revealed them to the simple.”

In a world that values degrees and learning, what is more contrary than to affirm that the poor have a privilege in understanding the revelation of God. How much more important that is here in Honduras where the rich and the powerful look down on the poor.

Francis opens up for the radical simplicity of the Gospel by interpreting the Gospel through the lens of the poor Christ, laying aside the notions of an imperial and dominating god.

The reading from Galatians 6: 14-18 is chosen because Francis bore “the marks of Jesus on his body.” He lived with the sufferings of Christ before his eyes and was marked by the stigmata for two years before his death. But what is more counter-cultural than to desire to share in the sufferings of others and to accompany those who are in need. So was Christ and so was Francis.

The first reading, Ecclesiastes 50: 1-3, 7, refers to the one who repairs the temple of the Lord and propped up the sanctuary. When Francis heard the Lord speaking to him from the cross in San Damiano, “Go, repair my church,” he took it literally and began to rebuild the church. (He also rebuilt several others.) A man of leisure, used to the good life, works with his hands.

Francis became poor for the sake of Christ; he worked as the poor worked; he gave up power and position.

He truly saw the world upside-down – suspended from the Crucified Lord.

The photo, courtesy of Terry McElrath, is from the entrance to the church at what was St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary, Callicoon, NY, where I spent high school and two years of college.

Other posts on Francis:
Francis and encountering Jesus in silence
Francis and Gandhi: peace and nonviolence
Francis and repairing the church
Francis and the leper
Saint Francis and poverty
Saint Francis: gratefully loving the world
 Saint Francis: performing the Gospel
Saint Francis and the challenge of nonviolence
Saint Francis and the evangelization of love



One response to “The Upside-Down World of St. Francis

  1. Pingback: Romero – the seed that bears fruit | walk the way

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