by Melanie Bettinelli on March 15, 2013
At the beginning of the month I finished this new biography of St Francis of Assisi. I’ve been meaning to write down a few thoughts about it, but it keeps getting pushed to the back burner. But now that our new pope has taken the name Francis, suddenly it has acquired a new urgency. In the past two days I’ve recommended this book to two different friends who confessed that they weren’t all that interested in Francis.
The book is Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson, O.P. (That’s right. A Dominican wrote the book on Francis.) Thompson is quite the scholar, though he tucks all the notes away at the end, making it easy to just read the biography section of the book through without worrying about those details if you dont want to mess with it. The notes do explain why he approached the various sources in the way he did, which he thinks are authoritative and which more legendary.
The Francis he portrays isn’t the stereotype you might think of when you hear Francis. There are hardly any animal stories, for one, and the focus is on how Francis was inspired to choose several Gospel passages about poverty and live them literally. But the focus of Francis’ spirituality, especially later in his life, is not poverty but the Eucharist.
I’m going to be lazy and crib from Amy Welborn’s review
It is the St. Francis we know – a penitent committed to living the Gospel and conforming himself to the Crucified – but also one we may not be as familiar with.
This book gave me much to think about - and when we get closer to its publication date, I will post on it again, but for now, I’ll share these three points:
What Fr. Thompson has done, I think, is to work hard to clear away the narrative of inevitability that so often (and understandably) affects biographies of Francis – or any figure. Since we know how the story ends, it is a real challenge not to tell - or read – the story with that end in mind. In this book, we walk with Francis and see things as he saw them at the moment – as much as possible. As I read this book, I felt a bit as I did when I read the diaries of Dorothy Day – with the person, in the moment, responding to God’s grace in all of their limitations and hope.
He presents a clarifying and rather different definition of poverty in Francis’ spirituality – again, working to separate what Francis really said and did from later controversies.
This is very important, and perhaps will be the most revealing and one of the more controversial aspects of the book: He places the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the proper and reverential celebration of both squarely at the center of Francis’ concern.
As I read I marked a couple of brief passages from the book that serve to highlight those points:
The locus of Francis’s “mysticism,” his belief that he could have direct contact with God, was in the Mass, not in nature or even in service of the poor. Thus his harsh words for those who ignored the Eucharistic presence are unique: he never used such language about peace breakers or those who oppressed the downtrodden, deeply as those sins pained him. Francis always preferred to speak in actions and gestures rather than words: he expressed his reverence for churches by sweeping and cleaning them. In response to clerical failure to keep the Host in honorable containers, Francis once tired to have his friars bring precious pyxes to all the regions where they were active. He asked that these be used to reserve the Host when other decent containers were lacking. One can imagine the effect of Francis’s poor followers, with their miserable habits, presenting silver pyxes to parish clergy for the reservation of the Sacrament.
Now Francis meditates on how the Word of the Father, exalted above all creation, humbled himself to take flesh from the Virgin, an act which was “to choose poverty.” This is the only mention of poverty in Francis’s letters of 1220-21, and this “poverty” is not linked to giving up property, simplicity of life, or living only for the day. Francis identifies this poverty with the very physicality of the human condition taken on by the Word.
Nor does Francis dwell on that “poverty” in itself. Rather, he passes to how the Word made flesh gave himself tp his followers on the night before his Passion, when he took bread and wine, and, by the words, “This is my Body” and “This is the Blood of the New Testament,” gave himself over to his disciples as food. Jesus’ act of self giving is, again without elaboration, linked to his sacrifice and death on the Cross for sinners. The Chalice of his Blood given to the disciples is the same one Jesus spoke of in his prayer to the Father: “Father, let this chalice pass from me,” as his “sweat became as drops of blood flowing down upon the earth.” At that Last Supper, then, Jesus initiated the Eucharist so that, as victim on the altar of the Cross, he could “give us an example, so that we might follow in his footsteps.”
The Last Exhortation highlights a theme that is consistently present in Francis’s postconversion llife: the imitation of Christ’s act of self-offering, which becomes real and tangible “in all the churches of the world,” above all in the Eucharistic sacrifice. Christ at the Last Supper commanded his disciples to do as he did, to speak his words over the bread, and so, in eating it, receive his True Body. To take into one’s self the Living and Crucified Body during communion, to venerate it at the elevation during the Mass, and to do so worthily, was to experience the true poverty that was embraced by the Word: human flesh, torn and suffering, bleeding and dying, for others.
I highly recommend this beautiful book. The actual biography is only 141 pages, a quick read. I haven’t spent much time with the notes, but do look forward to reading them one day. I hope that our new Holy Father, Pope Francis will lead many people to rediscover this most misunderstood saint.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 11, 2012
Dom often tweaks me about my lack of a sense of humor. Often when he tells a joke I seem to miss the point entirely and respond not to the joke but the factual error that the joke relies on in order to be funny. Oh, I get that it’s a joke; but I get too stuck on the literal and respond to that rather than to the funny twist. Too stuck on the literal meaning. It’s kind of a funny failing for one who chose Literature as her avocation. It’s certainly not that I don’t get metaphor and imagery. I’m actually quite good at it. I think in metaphor and symbol. But for some reason there are some areas where I have a hard time getting past the literal. Or maybe it’s just that I think that all good poetry must begin with the literal before it can jump to the figurative. So I stop there to ponder the literal, to really think about what it means. And only when I’ve come to grips with the literal can I allow myself to delve deeper into the realm of symbol.
And maybe that weird hangup about the literal is at the root why I have always had such a hard time understanding the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mind you, I haven’t spent any time at all really reading up on the devotion. It’s always seemed a little strange, alien. Something that other people do. All I do know is what you absorb by osmosis just by growing up Catholic. I know the image. I have heard some of the prayers. Something about it just misses me. I’ve often wonder if it isn’t because most of the popular devotionals I’ve seen are very much on the sentimental side and I’m just not a very sentimental gal. But I’ve been drawn to St. Claude de la Colombiere and through him drawn to wonder what I’ve been missing. I feel like I’m supposed to keep probing at this devotion until I do get it. And so I keep thinking about it and the more I ponder I wonder if it isn’t my literalism tripping me up.
I have this weird hangup about the heart as a symbol. I don’t know at what point it started to bug me because when I was younger I was like most girls and loved to draw hearts on everything. But at some point in my life I began to wonder why the heart is the symbol of love. Maybe it was when I read that other cultures have seen the liver as the seat of passion. The heart shape isn’t literally the shape of a human heart, only a vague approximation. Likewise, we don’t literally feel love with our hearts. All emotions must really be centered in the brain, if you are going to connect them to any organ. And so at some point the heart as metaphor for love began to seem odd and arbitrary to me. I somehow dissociated myself from it. And if the heart is an arbitrary symbol for love, then isn’t it arbitrary to have a devotion to Jesus’ heart?
To me the only way I can begin to approach the Sacred Heart of Jesus is through another symbol: the Sacred Blood. I have no problem grasping a devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus. That one isn’t too weird for me at all. I receive it every time I receive Communion. If Jesus’ Blood is so sacred, so precious, then surely the heart that pumped that blood though his body is also sacred. And that Body… I receive that Body too. Somehow hidden in the form of bread I receive the fullness of that Body. And somehow, mystically, by virtue of my baptism, I am a member of that Body. A member of the Body of Christ. And that Body is not just a metaphor. It is a real body. It began as a small cell dividing and dividing and dividing in the womb of Mary. It had a heart that pumped blood. On the day he died that heart stopped bleeding. That heart was pierced by the soldier’s spear. And when he rose from the dead… did that heart begin to beat again? And now that that body is in heaven does that heart still beat?
He is the Vine and I am a very small branch on that vine. If I am to have life I must be connected to the Vine. If I am to have life, I must receive his Blood. If I am to have life that Sacred Heart must pump that Blood to me. Perhaps instead of a branch, I am a very small capillary? If I am a vessel, connected to that Vine, receiving that Blood, then I must be beating in time with the beating of that Heart.
Every time my heart pumps my entire body throbs. That rhythm of my beating heart is the first sound my little baby will know. Can I think of myself as being a small child, nourished by the Blood pumped from that Heart? Nestled secure in the dark listening to the beating of that heart… Oh to be that secure, to have that rhythm be the one that governs my every moment!
Now I think I may begin to understand a love for the Heart of Jesus which is the organ that will deliver to my hungry self the blood I so desperately need. But I still don’t find myself moved by the pictures. The images of the stylized heart. Oh no, I want to imagine the dark, hidden pulsing of it, the constant pumping life of it. Those images don’t convey that to me.
What about you? Do you have a devotion to the Sacred Heart? How did you come to it? What images speak to you the most? What prayers do you pray? How does this devotion help you to draw closer to Christ? I’m struggling to understand, to learn.
Maybe I just need to pray this over and over again until I get it.
Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
Christ, hear us
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us*
God, the Holy Spirit,
Holy Trinity, One God,
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father,
Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mother,
Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God,
Heart of Jesus, of Infinite Majesty,
Heart of Jesus, Sacred Temple of God,
Heart of Jesus, Tabernacle of the Most High,
Heart of Jesus, House of God and Gate of Heaven,
Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity,
Heart of Jesus, abode of justice and love,
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love,
Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues,
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise,
Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts,
Heart of Jesus, in whom are all treasures of wisdom and knowledge,
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwells the fullness of divinity,
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father was well pleased,
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received,
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills,
Heart of Jesus, patient and most merciful,
Heart of Jesus, enriching all who invoke Thee,
Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness,
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins,
Heart of Jesus, loaded down with opprobrium,
Heart of Jesus, bruised for our offenses,
Heart of Jesus, obedient to death,
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance,
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation,
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection,
Heart of Jesus, our peace and our reconciliation,
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who trust in Thee,
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in Thee,
Heart of Jesus, delight of all the Saints,
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world; spare us, O Lord
Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord
Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us
V. Jesus, meek and humble of heart.
R. Make our hearts like to yours
Let us pray;
Almighty and eternal God, look upon the Heart of your most beloved Son and upon the praises and satisfaction which He offers You in the name of sinners; and to those who implore Your mercy, in Your great goodness, grant forgiveness in the name of the same Jesus Christ, You Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 11, 2012
You think you would be less distracted if you were away from the circumstances in which God has placed you; I think, on the contrary, that you would have fewer distractions if you accepted things with more conformity to God’s will and if, in your work, you thought of yourself as a servant of Jesus Christ whom he employs as it seems best to him and who is equally content in whatever service is exacted from her. Try to live in your present state as though you were never to leave it; think more of making good use of your crosses than of getting rid of them under pretext of having more liberty with which to serve God.
St Claude de la Colombiere from The Spiritual Direction of St Claude de la Colombiere.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 17, 2012
This was just so beautiful, I just had to share.
My Lord, God,
You have led me by a long, dark path,
Rocky and hard.
Often my strength threatened to fail me.
I almost lost all hope of seeing the light.
But when my heart grew numb with deepest grief,
A clear star rose for me.
Steadfast it guided me- I followed,
At first reluctant, but more confidently later.
At last I stood at Church’s gate.
It opened. I sought admission.
From your priest’s mouth Your blessing greets me.
Within me stars are strung like pearls.
Red blossom stars show me the path to You.
They wait for you at Holy Night.
But your goodness
Allows them to illuminate my path to You.
They lead me on.
The secret which I had to keep in hiding
Deep in my heart,
Now I can shout it out:
I believe-I profess!
The priest accompanies me to the altar:
I bend my face-
Holy water flows over my head.
Lord, is it possible that someone who is past
Midlife can be reborn (Jn 3,4)?
You said so, and for me it was fulfilled,
A long life’s burden of guilt and suffering
Fell away from me.
Erect I receive the white cloak,
Which they place round my shoulders,
Radiant image of purity!
In my hand I hold a candle.
Its flame makes known
That deep within me glows your holy life.
My heart has become your manger,
But not for long!
Maria, your mother and also mine
Has given me her name.
At midnight she will place her newborn child
Into my heart.
Ah, no one’s heart can fathom,
What you’ve in store for those who love you (1Cor 2,9).
Now you are mine, and I won’t let you go.
Wherever my life’s road may lead,
You are with me.
Nothing can ever part me from your love (Rm 8,39).
via Daily Gospel Online
Tuesday of the Second week of Easter
Commentary of the day
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross [Edith Stein] (1891-1942), Carmelite, martyr, co-patron of Europe
Poem: « Heilige Nacht » (trans.©Suzanne Batzdorff)
by Melanie Bettinelli on February 23, 2008
Bella’s naptime reading choice today: a novena to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The Missionaries of Charity sent me the pamphlet and some holy cards last year when my sister-in-law asked them to pray for me following my miscarriage and cancer diagnosis.
Bella has been playing with all my holy cards during morning prayer time and loves naming the saints. Her favorites are Jesus, Mary, St. Michael, St. Therese, St. Teresa Benedicta, Mother Teresa, and Pope John Paul II (who she simply calls “Paul” and who she often confuses with Pope Benedict, who she also calls “Paul”, though maybe she’s trying to say “pope”.)
Anyway, Bella noticed the pamphlet on the top of the bookshelf when I picked her up and, recognizing Mother Teresa, wanted to hold it. She sat down on the floor immediately and began “reading” it to herself.
When we went to go settle for her nap she was still carrying the pamphlet and rejected all other book offers I made. So I began reading the prayers and eventually she fell asleep, perfectly content at her choice of bedtime “story”. And I got some unplanned prayer time, a little peaceful interlude in my afternoon. Sometimes God is so good, he gives us what we need without our even asking.
Thank you God for your servant Isabella, my little missionary of your love.
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