Monday, April 2, 2012

Different Take on "A Mended and Broken Heart"


Don't judge a book by it's cover -- that includes the inside flaps. Having finished Murray's "A Mended and Broken Heart," my opinion is differently changed from the original impression I gave back in November.

This one is a different perspective than most biographies of St. Francis you'll find. It's easy to catch on to her skepticism at first glance. However, unlike those who suggest the Francis-and-Clare romantic connection simply to make them more "human," i.e. finding fault for its own sake, Murray sees an opportunity for sanctity. And to be clear, even the author doesn't expect her case to be convincing based on the evidence because the evidence is quite sparse. One really needs to think between the lines and -- perhaps more importantly -- consider the lesson she is drawing for all of us trying to find God while pulled by contradictory desires.

The orthodox party line maintains that Francis and Clare shared no romantic bond. My understanding is the primary reason is their age difference: Francis was approaching 30 when Clare was just growing into womanhood. Considering the times, I doubt such an age difference was unusual. I think the unspoken reason is that orthodox Catholics instinctively protect the pedestals upon which we place our saints -- even when no sin is suggested.

And this is an important point, for Murray consistently insists upon their fidelity to Christian moral law, that is after Francis abandoned his old ways. More interesting, though, is how Francis seeking to fulfill his human yearning for love in Clare was not a distraction from his vocation, but paved the path towards taking Lady Poverty as his bride. It's not like Francis was setting out to found a religious order. He had no idea how he would shape the world 800 years after his death. He knew his need for a sensual, romantic love: His arms embraced a leper and his hands repaired a dilapidated church. And in the midst of those confusing times, I find it quite believable (and to his credit) that he considered marrying Clare. How can a man cannot forgo marriage if he isn't prepared to marry?

Speaking of rebuilding that church, we are all quite fond of how Francis initially misunderstood what Christ really meant: the rebuilding of a spiritual Church falling into ruins. Yet we don't doubt that the process of rebuilding a physical church did not serve some redemptive purpose. How much more could an initial misunderstanding about who he should love exclusively -- Clare or Lady Poverty -- bear fruit in ways unseen?

It is also noteworthy that Clare never married.

Speculation thought it is, I find some compelling reasons to consider how "what might have been" shaped what became. This biography dove more into Francis' struggles later in life that I had never heard about before. I couldn't help but think about Theology of the Body while reading this book. Certainly there is some truth to the notion that in seeking Divine Love the consideration of married love can prepare a person for celibate love. In our fallen nature, they strike us as incompatible opposites. In the heavenly marriage, they are soul mates.

Thus, I think Christopher West's recently published, "At the Heart of the Gospel" might make the perfect follow-up read to "A Mended and Broken Heart."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Modernist Fluff on Dating

I came across some modernist fluff advice on CatholicMatch (of all places) on the question of whether a woman should offer to pay on a first date. Since this has always been one of my pet peeves, I couldn't resist spending some time on a Sunday afternoon replying to it. And maybe it's a little vain, but I'm proud of what I wrote, so here's a link to it :)

The Date Debate: Should The Man Pay For Dinner

How does this relate to St. Francis? For one, St. Clare would never offer to split the check :) While I doubt Francis and Clare ever courted (even though the book I'm about to read will make the case something existed between them; see my previous post), I don't think one can find a better gentleman that one who literally dreams of chivalry. And chivalry expects certain things: little things like paying for dates and holding doors expresses a quiet confidence in a man that -- assuming it is virtuous -- is rooted in friendship with Christ.

Mary is described by Tradition as our Castle and Tower, signifying her role as the sanctuary to be protected at all costs and humanity's desire to reach upward to God. These apply to her specific vocation as the Mother of God, but the metaphors apply to all women generally as humanity's natural connection to God. Ironically, modern society's femininity causes us to neglect true feminism, so it's no wonder we've lost touch with the divine. Consider most Hollywood portrayals of marriage. If one of the two spouses is devoutly religious, it's usually the wife (as was the case in a poorly-written yet interesting movie I saw yesterday, The Caller, which I might write more about soon). Women tend to have an instinct for spirituality. I feel like diving deeper into that mystery leads to some reasons for male priesthood, as it is more challenging for men to believe in the first place. Maybe it's true: we really aren't as "qualified."

So where does that leave this thought (as I sense this is the point to bring it together or wander into rambling... not that there's anything wrong with a good ramble once in a while)? I think it comes around to how the two primary vocations in Catholicism -- celibacy and marriage -- form a marriage in Catholic society that challenges and strengthens the other. The world and most other Christian sects are missing this beautiful experience. St. Francis and St. Clare are a unique pair of saints who together have much wisdom for both men and women in relationships to learn from celibates how to live chastely with an eye toward marriage.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Mended and Broken Heart

Biographies have always been a favorite genre of mine. Learning about a person's childhood, their joys and sorrows, what motivated them and the crosses they bore through life always interested me. Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and Iacocca are some of my favorites. I have G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi and Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox along with Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain on my reading list -- they've been there a while :) I will say, Chesteron being one of my favorite writers, I'm looking forward to reading both of those since Sts. Francis and Dominic demonstrate contrasting paths to holiness.

Of course, the challenge to a biographer writing on someone like St. Francis is bringing something new to the table. That's why I almost didn't bother buying this book, A Mended and Broken Heart: The Life and Love of Francis of Assisi by Wendy Morgan, especially since the inside-cover description makes the book sound slanted against orthodoxy. For instance, there's reference to St. Francis' "complex theology," the repression of certain details of his life by the Church, and his rushed canonization two years after his death (calling to mind the relatively quick canonizations of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Paull II). Yet it also offered a quote I'd never heard before: "Don't be too quick to canonize me. I am perfectly capable of fathering a child." And from there, proceeds to mention the "crucial but completely neglected role that Clare of Assisi played in Francis' life and theology, both before and after his conversion." Maybe Francis had a little thing for Clare, eh?

I could see that.

At any rate, I firmly believe we must die to become saints. Francis-the-sinner glorifies God all the more in becoming Francis-the-saint, and since I have a certain penchant for film noir and the dark side of humanity, I look forward to learning about Francis from a perspective that intentionally sheds more light on his weaknesses. Our sins show the way to holiness in that they reveal (in a disordered way) truth about ourselves that we can easily miss simply because we only see the sin and never look deeper into what it is we are fundamentally attracted to and how the seed of goodness within can be nurtured from depravity and death into goodness and life.

I won't be able to start this one right away. I'm finishing The Princess and the Goblin and just started Brew Like a Monk while in the middle of Screwtape Letters, The Call of the Wild and White Fang, and In Business As in Life, You Don't Get What You Deserve, You Get What You Negotiate. Needless to say, my interests are varied... and I should get some Amazon credit for all these links!

Pax et bonum,
Jason

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Prodigal Son

Two years, three months, and eight days since my last blog post. Yet every once in a while someone still happens across this place and leaves a comment. Every time I received one those e-mails, part of me missed this little outlet for semi-anonymous self-reflection and sharing, and figured eventually the time would be right to return. Like the Prodigal Son, I've done my share of wallowing in the mud and drinking from cisterns that do not satisfy one's inner thirst. And like him and St. Francis, I finally came around to embracing my Father in a new and refreshing way.

While I never left the Church, at times serving Mass was nothing more than a chore to keep my body occupied while my mind questioned the existence of God. Much of the time God so graciously gave me was given over to withdrawing into a paralyzing inner isolation, asking all the big life questions, intimidated to look inside my soul... not seeing much there and vainly grabbing onto any experience that distract me from the real work at hand... like walking into a mess that you have no idea how to begin cleaning... so you procrastinate with meaningless tasks... until you finally do one small thing to make it right that leads to doing another bigger thing...

Thankfully that mess is (mostly) cleaned up... I've done a healthy bit of introspection recently, especially when I noticed that the past five years were blurring together. Plus, watching the current Terrence Malick film, "Tree of Life," spurred me into facing some demons once again, which hasn't been fun, but it is necessary if they'll ever be put to rest.

I reckon that's about all for now... after seeing "Tree of Life" again, it'll definitely be post-worthy material.

Pax et Bonum,
Jason

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pickin' My Belly Button Lent... 2009!

This title is absolute genius, in my humble opinion, which is why I'm recycling it from 2006. Following the last post on New Year's resolutions, it seems appropriate to check how those resolutions are going. Well, over halfway through Lent, I honestly forgot what those old resolutions, as my mind's been occupied with keeping my Lenten commitments. Checkin' the files... apparently I'm supposed to fast from meat for breakfast and lunch... sounds like something a woman would make me do.

Granted, for Lent I am fasting from meat completely (except Sunday's, of course, in order to celebrate the Resurrection... and in the Catholic world we begin celebrating the Resurrection around 5pm on Saturday). I also begin participating in the e5men.org bread-and-water fast on Ash Wednesday and I'm doing that every Wednesday of Lent. Well, yesterday wasn't a good day, so I decided to fast today... and right now I'm drinking "liquid bread" in the form of a Dundee Honey Brown lager, but it was a long day at work... I'll keep the fast until lunch tomorrow to compensate a bit (which the web site says is permissible, so I'm still playin' by the rules).

Anyway, if you came here expecting some brilliant commentary or insight into Lent... I think I'm about tapped dry for now. I just wanted to check in and felt like writing a quick blog post, so next year maybe I can come back here and at least recall what was on my mind. I can say this has been a relatively fruitful Lent so far. Like most people who aren't dead, I've got my set of struggles and attachments that make for a frustrating experience of life at times, and I often fall into these moods of pessimism and despair. But I have to say, while sometimes I thought Matthew Kelly's "Rediscovering Catholicism" was a bit too cheesy or pep rally-esque, he says a lot of good things and he helped me appreciate the role of discipline in life. When I start to despair, I've noticed it's always at times when I'm least disciplined. And during the times when I push myself into more discipline, I end up happier, even if my circumstances haven't changed. Ergo, my outlook on life and faith are largely a product of my daily habits.

So, here's to getting back into that early-to-bed, early-to-rise schedule...