In the middle of the journey of our life
I came to my senses in a dark forest,
for I had lost the straight path.
Oh, how hard it is to tell
what a dense, wild, and tangled wood this was,
the thought of which renews my fear.
~ DANTE, Inferno, Canto I, lines 1-6
Chasing Francis is a title I believe I first encountered on Peter Enns’ blog. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy following Enns’ blog: intriguing suggested reads. Chasing Francis is one that sneaked up on me. From the first quote from Dante’s Inferno that prefaces chapter one, I was hooked.
Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron is a fictional tale of fictional megachurch pastor (Chase Falson) who has a crisis of faith and ends up taking a two month sabbatical to Italy to visit an uncle and hopefully find his heart – and his faith. But that’s just a ploy to explore the real story of the book: a chance to see through a disillusioned evangelical’s eyes the face, the faith, the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.
I started reading Chasing Francis while I waited to take my latest MRI checking for any recurrence of cancer (the scan ended up being clear; another reprieve). It captured my heart instantly and resonated through my soul. I connected with the pathos Morgan infused into the fictional pastor – and I totally wanted to meet the crew of friars that interact with the character in the story. To have two months to do what the character in this story does…
To join the chase for Francis.
At least I have the habit. Clearly, that’s the easy part.
I will no doubt have some other posts processing content from the book, let me give you some snippets of Francis, some soul morsels from the book:
Francis didn’t criticize the institutional church, nor did he settle for doing church the way it had always been done. He rose above the two alternatives and decided that the best way to overhaul something was to keep your mouth shut and simply do it better.
Sitting in the church, I was struck by the simple elegance of Francis’ strategy of ministry – simply read the gospel texts and live the life you find in its pages. What a concept!
While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart. Nobody should ever be roused to wrath or insult on your account. Everyone should rather be moved to peace, goodwill, and mercy because of your restraint. For we have been called to the purpose of healing the wounded, binding up those who are bruised, and reclaiming the erring.
Francis, your genius was that you read stuff in the Bible (like the Sermon on the Mount), and you didn’t spiritualize or theologize it. You heard Jesus say, “Happy are the peacemakers,” so you got up every day and embarked on a new peace mission. My usual approach is to read the Bible, try to understand what it’s saying, and then apply it. Your formula was the reverse. You applied the Bible, then came to a fresh understanding of what it actually meant.
It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching. Preach as you go.
And, finally, even though it’s familiar and may seem trite to some, it’s still the prayer I am going to make a point of memorizing and meditating until it transforms the very fiber of my being:
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;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine 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.
So say we all.
Take and read.
And be…then do…