The following is an encyclical that was written by Pope Pius XI (Achille Ratti) on the seventh centenary of St. Francis’s death in 1926. Compared to other writings of this great pope such Mit Brennender Sorge (On the Catholic Church in Germany ) and Divini Illius Magistri (On Catholic Education), this encyclical may seem insignificant because it does not deal with world shattering events.
Yet its importance is underscored in the first paragraph in which Pope Pius XI points out that devotion in honor of St. Francis muts be rescued from the sentimentality into which it has fallen due to lovers of luxury. I’m sure that this sentimental image is the one that people associate with St. Francis due to the proliferation of statues that show him surroundeds by animals and this includes the St. Francis bird baths and garden statues as well. Of course, this was the image of St. Francis that I had before I learned more about him.
Yet, as Pope Pius XI points out, the real St. Francis is much more fascinating than most people realize. In fact, St. Francis was not anywhere near what popular art portrays him as. Rather, he was a man who sought to remedy several grievous situations that were occurring in the Church during his lifetime. Above all, St. Francis was a man of action. From his work with the lepers and rebuildings of churches to his preaching missions, St. Francis was a man who was constantly on the go. I don’t think he had time to rest.
I once saw a book that attempted to analyze St. Francis’s life from a psychological point of view. It was interesting because it used the word “hysteria” in the title. St. Francis, based on what I have read, was not a hysterical person in either sense of the term. The fact of the matter is that he burned with love for God and this love of God impelled him to do all that he could for those other people that surrounded him. If he was sentimental, it was only because he saw in God in His creation.
Pope Pius XI’s encyclical is important for us today because it helps us to realize exactly what true devotion to St. Francis is. Let us read it with open hearts and minds.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Francis, pray for us!