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Posted April 25, 2014

Book: Reclaiming Francis: How the Saint and the Pope are Renewing the Church
Author: Charles M. Murphy
Ave Maria Press. Notre Dame, IN. 2014. Pp. 141

An Excerpt from Chapter 1

St. Francis admirably fulfills the three criteria proposed by the synod's working document on the new evangelization, for (a) he makes the Christian life seem plausible and attractive even in the circumstances of today, (b) the witness of his life manifests the possibility that the world itself can be changed, and (c) he shows that this all can be done in complete union with the Church.

In the 1920s the eminent British journalist Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote a book on St. Francis of Assisi, a book that has been in print ever since. In many ways it is typically Chesterton dictating the book to his stenographer with various reference works scattered around him on the floor. The book betrays the prejudices of the time, particularly with regard to Muslims, but basically Chesterton gets Francis right.

In the end his audience is the same as mine. He says he is not writing for the liberal skeptics who admire an image of Francis of Assisi who is a humanitarian hero and lover of birds and animals, "a saint without God." Neither is his intended audience those religious devotees who are comfortable with stigmata and fights against dragons. Chesterton writes "for the modern outsider and enquirer," as he himself once was, who may regard aspects of Francis's life as attractive but also somewhat remote and even repulsive --- in other words, "the ordinary modern person, sympathetic but skeptical." This skepticism abounds. During a recent visit to Assisi, our guide, a modern woman, pointed out with a slight smile the thorn bush onto which St. Francis supposedly hurled himself to avert an episode of sexual desire.

Chesterton confronts the doubting modern mind directly. He shows us Francis, the all too human, self-described lover and troubadour, but enunciates the fact that his first love was God. The point to his life story, then, the precipice to which everything else leads, is Francis's embrace of the cross. For Chesterton, Francis is nothing less than the Mirror of Christ whose counsels of perfection, followed the letter by il poverello and his companions, were intended to "to astonish and awaken the world."

Another Excerpt from the Book:

Cardinal Martini died on August 31, 2012. Before his death he gave an interview in which he said that the Church is two hundred years out of date in terms of presenting its message effectively. He said in part:

"The Church is tired in affluent Europe and America. Our culture has grown old, our churches are empty, the bureaucracy of our churches is growing out of proportion, our liturgies are pompous . . . how is it that the Church does not rouse itself? Are we afraid? Fearful instead of courageous?"

Table of Contents:

Part One: St. Francis's world and ours

1. A saint for today

2. "My house is falling down"

3. "The dragon is in charge of the city"

4. "Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words"

Part Two: Rebuilding the Church

5. The gospel way of life: prayer, penance, and charity

6. Love of God and God's poor

7. Love of poverty in imitation of Jesus

8. Love of the earth, our home, and all its creatures

9. Love of peace among all peoples and religions

10. Modern Fioretti

Conclusion: Two Bethlehems