On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Gathering of Larks

A contemporary poet writes to St. Francis of Assisi as she explores his life with a focus on his choices, mistakes and faith. A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2017) isn’t exactly a biography, but author Abigail Carroll covers the important events in St. Francis’ life while she tries to make sense of the inexplicable in current events.

a gathering of larks by abigail carroll back (1)

Abigail Carroll refuses to fall into the trap of stereotyping St. Francis–and that was a great relief, as I relate to this statement:

For most of my life, the St. Francis I have encountered has been as garden statuary, prayer card images, children’s book illustrations, and stained-glass windows. . . . I attempt to bridge the gap between who Francesco Bernardone really was and who we have made him to be. (viii)

The book begins with a short biography of St. Francis that does not gloss over the tough-to-think-about parts or romanticize anything. The poem I enjoyed most is a prose-poem titled “Dear Reluctant Saint” that describes modern-day Assisi, explaining how commercialized it’s become without exactly saying how much he’d hate something like that.

Don’t skip the Conversation with the Author at the end of the book, in which she discusses faith, poetry, and what most intrigues her about St. Francis.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the various titles Carroll uses to address St. Francis. Reminiscent of the stock epithets in Greek poetry, these titles help to define St. Francis and are thematically related to the issue explored in each particular poem.

This book is highly recommended for anyone with a devotion to St. Francis of Assisi.

Barb's Book shelf blog title
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

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Worth Revisit: The Pope Redefines Saint Francis

On September 17, Franciscans celebrated the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis. That’s what Francis is really all about–uniting himself so closely to the Gospel life that his own body bore the same wounds as Christ on the cross.

"Worth Revisit: The Pope Redefines St. Francis" by Barb Szyszkiewicz @franciscanmom
License [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Ten years ago, then-Pope Benedict XVI spoke about who St. Francis really was. Here’s my reflection, written September 14, 2006, on an article from Chiesa News.

He’s not just that guy in the birdbaths. He’s not some enviro-hippie.

Benedict XVI said he wanted to correct the “abuses” and “betrayals” that distort the true character of Saint Francis. And to recall the false view of Saint Francis, Benedict XVI needed just two words: “environmentalist” and “pacifist.” …The truth of Saint Francis – the pope emphasizes – is his “radical choice of Christ,” the conversion awakened in him by the words of the crucified Jesus: ‘Go, rebuild my house.’

It’s not about peace protests. It’s not about ecology. It’s not about blessing our household pets.

Being Franciscan is about conversion. All the rest is incidental.

In the spiritual travail that the young Francis was living through, he perceived these words of vocation and mission as being in the first place an invitation to carry out completely the conversion that had already begun, making his own the concern and plans of Christ for his Church.

So my priority, as a Franciscan, is to ask myself how I can better turn myself toward God, and serve Him in my daily life. That’s what conversion is about–turning TOWARD God.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

#WorthRevisit: Dread vs. Hope

Do you hate Lent?

There’s nothing fun about penance, to be sure, but Lent has its hopeful side. Today I’m revisiting a post I wrote on the First Sunday of Lent in 2007:

Why is Lent something we seem to dread?

It’s only been three days so far, and I’ve lost count of the people who have expressed to me how much they “hate Lent.”

This morning a fellow church musician mentioned that she finds Lenten music to be full of Gloom and Doom.

Granted, this is not a cheerful time, in the sense that Christmas and Easter are cheerful. But it is certainly a hopeful time. It is a time to look forward to the holiest Three Days that we celebrate as a Church. As we remind ourselves each week as we recite the Memorial Acclamation, “Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.”

At Mass today our choir will sing this song by Dan Schutte:

Let us ever glory in the cross of Christ,
Our salvation and our hope.
Let us bow in homage to the Lord of life,
Who was broken to make us whole.
There is no greater love, as blessed as this,
To lay down one’s life for a friend.
Let us ever glory in the cross of Christ
And the triumph of God’s great love.

Let us tell the story of the cross of Christ
As we share this heavenly feast.
We become one body in the blood of Christ
From the great to the very least.
When we eat of this bread and drink of this cup
We honor the death of the Lord.
Let us ever glory in the cross of Christ
And the triumph of God’s great love.

(copyright 2000, OCP)

During this season of Lent, may we remember that it’s not All About Us. It’s not about whether we can abide giving up chocolate, or soda, or colored sprinkles. These sacrifices are small potatoes indeed when we meditate on what Christ was willing to do for our sakes.

May we walk through this Lent with a joyful spirit.

Saint Bernardine of Siena wrote that Saint Francis once said:

May the fiery and honey-sweet power of your love, O Lord, wean me from all things under heaven, so that I may die for love of your love, who deigned to die for love of my love.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

Transitus? What’s a Transitus?

Franciscans all over the world observe the Transitus today, on the eve of the Feast of St. Francis. (Technically, for us, it’s a Solemnity, which would be extra cool if it weren’t already Sunday! As it is, the Sunday takes precedence over the Feast. Or Solemnity. St. Francis would probably let someone have it if he heard them complaining that a Sunday canceled out his Feast Day. Actually, there’s no “probably” about it. I’m quite sure he would.)

St. Francis statue at St. Anthony Shrine, Paterson, NJ. Copyright 2015 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.
St. Francis statue at St. Anthony Shrine, Paterson, NJ. Copyright 2015 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Today we observe the Transitus, because today is the day Francis died. “Transitus” celebrates transition: between Francis’ life on earth and his new life in Heaven.

We observe the Transitus by gathering together in prayer. The Transitus is not a Mass, but a prayer service. At the Transitus my Fraternity is hosting, we will sing “All Creatures of Our God and King” because Francis wrote the words. And we will sing all the verses, spread out at different points in the service, because those last two verses concern earthly death–or, as Francis called her, “Sister Death.” We will read from biographies of Francis by St. Bonaventure and Thomas of Celano. We will also read from the Gospel of John and Psalm 142. After the homily, we will pray together and then enjoy some fellowship with our guests.