Today in churches and schools far and wide there will be infrequent guests lining up for blessings. It is the feast of St. Francis, of course, who loved all of creation but chose to possess nothing in order that he could be totally dependent on God. My favorite story about Francis may not be factual and it is not the one of the sweet stories of his relationship with the birds and the beasts (although those are also compelling). It comes from a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis entitled simply Saint Francis, in which the narrator, Brother Leo, says something like the following:
Once I asked him, “Brother Francis, how does God reveal himself to you when you are alone in the night?” He answered, “Like a glass of cool water,” Brother Leo. “God is like a glass of water?” I asked. “Why, yes,” he replied. “We take and drink it and we are satisfied unto eternal life.” But some years later, when he was simply a lump of skin and bones, Brother Francis called me to him and whispered: “God is a conflagration, Brother Leo. He burns and we burn with him!”
I know there are a few incorrect words in that telling of the story but I have to go searching for my copy of the book to be more precise. The point is made, however, if we consider the process of spiritual growth in Francis as he struggled to do everything for God and to spread the message of God’s all-consuming love with all those he encountered.
Fire is a mighty image for that love: beautiful – for those of us who wish to sit by a fireplace and watch wood flicker into life and then burn uproariously with energy and color – but totally consuming if we consider the result for the wood. That was the fire that ignited Francis to become all flame and calls to us, perhaps, to that same willingness, that unstinting love.