On Thursday night, I had planned to go to bed by 11 pm. I was so tired from the exhausting week, and I was looking forward to my White Space Friday — A good night’s sleep is what I really needed. I was still wide awake at 10:45, and as I scrolled through the television channels, I came across a movie on TCM network — St. Francis of Assisi. It had me intrigued, because I had never seen it before, and St. Francis has always been one of my favorite saints — he believed in true peace and loved all animals. When our new Pope took the name of St. Francis, I was overjoyed.
So this movie was made in Italy in 1961. It was quite basic by today’s standards, I watched for a few minutes and figured I’d go to bed. But a half hour later, I was so engrossed in the movie, there would be no going to bed now. It was a very simple view of the life of Francis Bernadone. The story goes that he was born to a wealthy merchant in Assisi, Italy. He left his father to go and fight in the crusades with his friend Count Paolo of Vandria with the dream to become a great knight. While traveling with the soldiers, he was called by God to leave them and give up all his worldly goods and dedicate his life to God. Even though the movie was quite elementary, there were some really beautiful scenes. I especially loved the scene when the two cheetahs were unleashed on him in the desert on his way to see the Muslim sultan. He tamed those cheetahs and by that, gained access and respect from the sultan.
There was another scene while on his journey with his 11 followers to Rome to see the Pope to establish a new order, when a white bird (which I assume was a dove), landed on St. Francis and was not afraid. He told it to then fly into the sky and the flock of birds led them to Rome. This reminded me of a recent picture I saw being shared on Facebook (to the left) of our new Pope, Pope Francis.
The movie goes through St. Francis’ life in how he rebuilt the church, grew the faith across Europe and taught the message of peace. I found it so relevant to today’s world — it was amazing to realize that the struggle in Jerusalem in the early 13th century were the same battles of today — Muslims against Christians, both fighting for the holy land. There is still no peace, and it has grown into even more violence as we’ve seen in recent years/days with terrorism. It makes me think that we need a man like St. Francis today — with the ability to draw others to him just by his simple faith — but realize that peace seems so unreachable with such extremists and terrorists in this world — the task would be too great for any one person. Or would it, if it was God’s will?
The movie’s basic theme was to give up all possessions and follow God by trusting in him. But, I felt that St. Francis was a very sad and lonely man in the movie. This is the only part that I think was poorly done. I would have thought that he should have been portrayed with such great joy with his amazing faith in God — to listen to his calling and leave all his worldly possessions behind. But instead, they showed him just very drab and unemotional. Not to mention, to gain followers by his simple message would require a very approachable and generous man. There was one scene that I felt he had that warmth and love — the one where the children came to him with all their animals to be blest. There had to be 40 or 50 children, carrying ducks, lambs, dogs, cows and other animals with bows tied around their necks — it was beautiful. But other times and in other scenes, like the one where his aristocrat woman friend became a nun — it was dark, and you felt the great sacrifice she was making by the solemness of the ceremony.
When my brother, Bob was ordained a priest at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh, it was a great day of celebration for us all. Bob was ordained with two other men and this was the first time I had ever been to an ordination. As Bob came down the aisle, tears streaked his face — and I’ll never forget that moment — I truly saw the love he had for God — it was pouring from him as he was filled with so much joy. And that is how I would see St. Francis — someone with much joy to share with his followers.
I think this movie also demonstrates that human nature hasn’t changed since the time of Christ. St. Francis had a lot of resistance from his friends and family on his desire to seek God — and this was a constant struggle throughout the movie. Something that we would all face if we were to take up the cross for Christ.
If you haven’t seen the movie, it worth watching. And if nothing else, it will make you more curious about the life of St. Francis.
Always B E L I E V E !
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.