Francis of Assisi is one of those rare figures who still appeals to Christians of many denominational and theological stripes. Christian History asked Conrad Harkins, O.S.F., a scholar at the Franciscan Institute at Saint Bonaventure University in New York, to talk about Francis’s continuing attraction. Harkins is one of America’s leading scholars of Francis and editor of Franciscan Studies.

Christian History:There were many traveling preachers in Francis’s day. Why is Francis remembered when others have been long forgotten?

Conrad Harkins: First, because Francis was utterly committed to God. Everyone says the great problem in Western society today is our collapse of values. For Francis the supreme value, the value that gave value to everything else, was God.

Francis was so committed to Christ, he took the Gospels as a manual of Christian life. When he heard that the Gospel said not to possess money, wear shoes, or own more than one tunic, Francis obeyed.

In addition, and just as important, he obeyed joyfully. There was a tremendous optimism and enthusiasm about Francis. For him a life of Gospel poverty was never depressing or sorrowful.

As Francis was being converted to God, he went with some young friends singing, dancing, and cavorting through the streets of Assisi. At one point, he fell behind the group. They turned back to find him and saw a dreamy look in his eyes. They teased him: “Oh, Francis, you’re in love!”

Francis replied, “You’re right. And I shall take a bride more beautiful and more lovely than any you can even begin to imagine.”

He was talking about God. That’s what transformed him. His joy in God, his love for God, was and is infectious.

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