I have been spending the morning and most of last night reading a biography of Leo Tolstoy by the famous French author, Henri Troyat (1911-2007). I was struck by certain parallels between Tolstoy and St. Francis including some that may not be readily.
1. Restlessness and Searching: Both Tolstoy and St. Francis were restless and rather reckless during their early years. Tolstoy led a most unsettled existence for his entire youth searching for something that would fulfill him. He thought that he could find it among beautiful society women, the Horse Guards, or at his country estate. It was a search that led him to become one of the most renowned of Russian authors, but it was also one that led him away from the Orthodox Church to the dismay of his family and the society in which he lived. He died, I believe, excommunicated.
St. Francis’s existence was also restless. It seems to me that from his youngest years, Francis also sought out the fun things in life. He also drank and rang doorbells at early hours in the morning. But Francis’s restlessness was laid to rest with an illness that nearly killed him, while Tolstoy’s search continued until his death.
2. Religion: Both Tolstoy and St. Francis were raised in religious families. Tolstoy’s grandmother, aunt, and older brother were all extremely devoted to the Russian Orthodox Church. The same can be said about the devotion of St. Francis’s mother, Pica, who supported her son’s vocation against his father’s wishes.
Yet from his earliest years, Tolstoy wondered if God even existed for him. It may have been because of the French authors that he read or because of the way that he had been raised, but he was forever between belief and unbelief. Unlike Tolstoy, Francs believed in God with all of his heart from his earliest years. Yes, St. Francis did wander, but his conversion completely changed his life.
Interesting as these paralells are they also point out the differences between human nature and destiny. Yet we must remember that we will always be restless unless we rest in God.