Saint Francis and Others

Appleton, John

SAINT FRANCIS AND OTHERS By JOHN APPLETON THERE lingers and increases with me one phrase out of Franciscan literature, which was used by Francis's earliest and most faithful friend, Brother Leo....

...But even this may be quite changed if only one does not interpret it as a mark of superiority...
...You may achieve just what you had almost ceased to hope for, an increasing joy in personal life...
...The brethren whom Francis began to have had been soured by class and poverty and overlordship and military forays...
...Francis kept examining his own heart until he found no reason in it why men should not be his brethren...
...But brotherhood is a tough rather than a sentimental matter, and you cannot go at it with a bang...
...Then at some stage or other his personal sky became overcast, the temper changed, the relations with his fellows were strained, and bitterness and aloofness grew apace...
...He not only wanted Francis to have brethren, but he wanted him to have them in the most honest way...
...For some live to find that they have fewer and fewer brethren, and though they may regret it, they feel that "such is life," and that it is bound to happen and nothing can be done about it...
...And as good a germ to start it with as any might be the favorite phrase which good Brother Leo kept rolling as a sweet morsel under his tongue: "When the blessed Francis began to have brethren...
...But they quickly faded away...
...It is said that scholars by dint of much patient prying into historical sources are able dimly to descry the faint outlines of some sixty-four men who offered themselves as Messiahs before Christ...
...Nobody felt more keenly than Leo the terrific loneliness to which his little brown master had exposed himself, and nobody wished more earnestly than Leo that some day Francis might have just what he deserved, friends...
...Do not be too hard on him...
...Be content as Francis was to "begin to have brethren"ómost beginnings are rather painful and disappointing...
...John was always unobtrusively on the watch as one slow heart after another finally gave way, and took a deep, deep rest every time it happened...
...All kinds of lives are full of that...
...Some men have fewer brethren as the years go by because of temper...
...In many cases you can trace back to the time when he was a sunny, hopeful, friendly being, having brethren, cheerful under obligations and nourished by service...
...Be a little gentle with yourself if it goes slowly with you...
...Suspicion touched a really noble spirit...
...Brother Leo did not mind the slowness of it so long as it was surely coming...
...If need be, he and Francis could consecrate their loneliness, which was very desperate for a time, but they were no isolationists, these two, and Leo savors to the end of life the hour when things began to amend and the brethren began to attach themselves...
...The strange aloofness and moroseness, the bitterness and separateness which have been slowly growing with you may also slowly depart...
...The grouch is a familiar figure in every circle...
...There is plenty of attention given to producing popularity and a man hardly ever knows a happy hour after he begins to dwell greatly on that, but this is another matter, quite...
...There is that about Leo which makes you feel that he would have clung to Francis just the same whether he ever had them or not, but none the less Leo watched like a lynx for every sign that his master and his mission were coming to be taken at their worth...
...I think, too, that Leo rejoiced because he found that Francis turned more and more toward his fellow-men the more costly and exasperating they became...
...When long afterward Leo came to write up his remembrances of Francis, there ran through his records as a recurrent refrain with which he began chapter after chapter: "When the blessed Francis began to have brethren...
...Francis took it in good part that the matter was a slow one...
...In the greyest personal sky where others hardly saw a sign of promise, he watched for some "orange streaks" and generally found them...
...If a man would have friends he must show himself friendly, and to do that he must conquer suspiciousness in himself...
...Sometimes a man begins not to have brethren because he is what Joseph Conrad called "the offended theorist," or in other words he is one who has hit upon what seems to him the very best philosophy of a matter or a situation or religion and, finding that people will not take it that way, he will not take them until they do...
...A new attitude toward rebuffs must have a part in brotherhood as Browning discovered: "Then welcome each rebuff That turns earth's smoothness rough...
...Others have fewer because of the very thing they hoped would put them in richer relations with men, namely, culture, as indeed it ought and might...
...There are nightmares of self-absorption to be shaken off, and self-absorption rather than hate is the opposite of love...
...And all this "turned," as Paul put it, through Francis's prayers and the supply of the spirit of Jesus Christ...
...We all have our favorite tests of character, but just now we might dwell a little on this good, sane test of Brother Leo as to whether our characters are the kind to produce brethren...
...There was something of the same spirit in Saint John who, without saying anything about it definitely, was nevertheless always musing about who would be the next to throw himself on the side of his Master...
...Many who are not wanting in personal dignity find to their sorrow that they are getting more and more apart from their fellow-men...
...The strain was too much...
...Brother Leo put his finger on a very vital matter...
...But somewhere culture went wrong, and thereafter it made people more and more excruciating to them, with all their coarseness, their mediocrities, their stupidities, their cheapnesses, and it became their daily prayer that they might get away out of reach of these things...
...Perhaps Leo was afraid that his master's first great gust of good-will might not last out the long, long day...

Vol. 12 • October 1930 • No. 23


 
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