Francis and Relinquishment
by Marie Dennis, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Joseph Nagle, and Stuart Taylor
Featured in Mountain Record 26.3, Spring 2008
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”…”You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’”
He… said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. (Mark 10:17-24)
Here we look at the moment in the life of Francis when he stripped himself naked in the courtyard of the cathedral, in front of his own family, the bishop, and the townspeople of Assisi.
By this time, Francis had experienced the transforming encounter with the leper. In chapter 1 we reflected on that story in which Francis is called to conversion in an encounter with the poor. Soon after that, Francis heard a voice telling him to “rebuild my church.” He sold his father’s goods and used the proceeds for the work of repairing a ruined chapel called San Damiano. Francis later went into hiding from his father but was found and imprisoned by the elder Bernardone. The conflict between father and son grew until it reached the breaking point described below. This was a decisive moment in Francis’ conversion, when Francis took the leap of faith from his world into that of the poor through a radical relinquishment of status and security.
But when his father saw that he could not bring Francis back from the way he had undertaken, he was roused by all means to get his money back. The man of God [Francis] had desired to offer it and expend it to feed the poor and to repair the buildings of that place. But he [Francis] who had no love for money could not be misled by any aspect of good in it; and he who was not held back by any affection for it was in no way disturbed by its loss. Therefore, when the money was found, which he who hated the things of this world so greatly and desired the riches of heaven so much had thrown aside in the dust of the window sill, the fury of his raging father was extinguished a little, and the thirst of his avarice was somewhat allayed by the warmth of discovery. He then brought his son before the bishop of the city, so that, renouncing all his possessions into his father’s hands, he [Francis] might give up everything he had. Francis not only did not refuse to do this, but he hastened with great joy to do what was demanded of him.
When he [Francis] was brought before the bishop, he would suffer no delay or hesitation in anything; indeed, he did not wait for any words nor did he speak any, but immediately putting off his clothes and casting them aside, he gave them back to his father. Moreover, not even retaining his trousers, he stripped himself completely naked before all. The bishop, however, sensing his disposition and admiring greatly his fervor and constancy, arose and drew him within his arms and covered him with the mantle he was wearing. He understood clearly that the counsel was of God, and he understood that the actions of the man of God [Francis] that he had personally witnessed contained a mystery. He immediately, therefore became his helper and cherishing him [Francis] and encouraging him he embraced him in the bowels of charity. (Celano, VI, 16-17)