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The Stories of Saint Francis

The Little Flowers of Saint Francis is a spiritual classic that has been read for many generations since its publication. Yet, this edition is a wonderful creation because the editor, Jon M. Sweeney, has put the entries of this work in chronological order. Not only do you get a taste of the ministry of St. Francis, but you get how he progressed in faith and how he impacted those around him in ministry. This book was certainly a real treat for me as I read it.

To begin with, the editor has given the reader a brief introduction that serves to give historical details about the life of St. Francis. One of the interesting points in the introduction was the that the first 41 entries focus on Francis and his companions while the last entries focus on a group of friars who were part of the Spirituals faction (xiii). As you continue reading, you find that there was a faction between those who wanted to follow Francis' teachings to the letter and those who saw his rule and teaching as one interpretation of a life of holiness. Sweeney mentions that there is even a difference theologically in the sections, the second part weighing heavily on the side of purgatory (xv). These details were fascinating and put into perspective the way a strong leader can be interpreted by his followers (we see this also in the person of Martin Luther and those who followed Philip Melanchthon's interpreation of his teachings). At the end of the introduction, Sweeney even gets into into the manner of factuality of the stories, drawing together both scholars who dismiss the veracity of the stories and those who see them as coming from eyewitnesses. Yet, what I think what is important here is that these stories were designed to elicit faith and to call people to take faith seriously, even to the point of great measures such as poverty.

We see in chapter three of a test done by Brother Masseo on Francis. He comes to him and asks him, "Why you, why you?" Why does the world all seem to run after you, to want you,...You aren't good looking. You don't know very much. Francis replied, "Those holy eyes have never seen a sinnerw viler than I am. He chose me, the worst of them all, for he says that he chooses the fools of the world to shame the wise...all so thatnd great virtue will be accredited to God alone and never to one of God's creatures" (11). It is in statements like these that we realize the humility of a man like Francis. Crowds came to him, probably some of them wanting to reduplicate his power and ministry, yet he was willing to seek out wisdom from God. In another chapter Francis is caring for a man with leprosy, the man is at a real low point and Francis washes his body doing anything he asks. As he was touching the man the leprosy began to go away and Francis saw it as miracle from God (24).

You even get some more outrageous depictions in this little work about the ministry of St. Francis. At one point a wolf was terrorizing one of the nearby towns, devouring animals and humans. Francis goes to the town and talks to the wolf, confronting him about his actions and making a pact that the wolf will never terrorize them again and the people will feed them. The wolf then goes onto hold out his paw as a sign of their pact. The story goes onto to tell that the town was never again taken advantage of by the wolf. This tale seems a bit over the top but I think it was meant to draw out the caring spirit of Francis and the way of bringing peace in the middle of reckless chaos.

What you find in these stories is man devoted to God in such a severe manner that he is willing to give up a life of luxury for poverty, holiness, and love. Although I'm not sure how to appropriate such an ascetic lifestyle for today, I am moved by his love for others, even the lowliest (lepers, etc.) and his devotion to God. I hope this book finds a wide readership.

Much thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy of this book.


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