Reluctant Saint: Francis of Assisi
Premieres April 13 (7 P.M. EST)
Environmentalists believe that the salvation of the world lies in the preservation of an eco-sensitive Francis of Assisi. Pacifists want to make Francis an instrument of their peace movements. And Reluctant Saint wants to make Francis into a religious pluralist who is shocked out of his parochial Christianity into a new respect for the goodness of Islam.
Though ostensibly about Francis, Reluctant Saint is really about current religious attitudes and reveals both the temptations and promise of religious biography.
The difficulty of presenting an even-handed biography of Francis has been with us since the beginning. Within a decade of Francis's death, for example, his more rigorous followers were already challenging the Franciscan bureaucrats by producing a biography that highlighted his asceticism.
The current cultural values implicit in this documentary are many. It is unseemly, for example, to want to be a saint. So Francis here is depicted as one for whom "sainthood was the last thing he ever wanted." But, in fact, Francis often drew attention to his sanctity. He plunged into a life of sacrifice, poverty, asceticism, and prayer—and made sure others knew that he was doing so. During one fast, for example, he vowed to not eat any meat. At one meal he consumed some chicken broth and was stricken with guilt. So he ordered a brother to lead him around town by a rope, shouting that Francis was a miserable sinner.
This is not to fault him for spiritual pride, but only to set him in his time: This sort of thing was a regular feature in the lives of medieval saints, who often "marketed" their saintliness to inspire others to holiness (with a dose of ...1
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