on 30 April 2014
Donald Spoto's biography on St Francis of Assisi is thoroughly researched, informative and such a compelling read, I could not put this book down. One thing is for sure, Spoto can write, and who better to write about than St Francis, a truly exceptional follower of Christ who lived the Gospel with every fibre of his being. Spoto brings to life medieval Europe in the 12th/13th centuries, we learn what type of life Francis led before his conversion, the circumstances that led to his conversion, and how his practice of radical poverty, austere self denial, and willingness to always help those in need (humans and animals alike) was an example to everyone. I learned so much about the historical, cultural, religious and social events surrounding Francis's life, but especially about Francis himself; he was without doubt truly inspirational. Though uneducated, he was wiser than many of the learned of his time, courageous - he sought martyrdom, was compassionate, and incredibly humble (he took the gospel literally in that he had no tunic, sandals or staff), and was strongly against power, status and ownership of wealth (especially within the church). "Your life is too hard and severe, said Pope Innocent to Francis, "where will you obtain the necessities of life"? As one would expect, Francis replied, "I trust in my Lord Jesus Christ". Spoto relates how, while Francis was away preaching, a trio of violent robbers approached Angelou Tarlati (one of the brothers), for food, he severely rebuked them and sent them packing. On hearing what Angelou had done, Francis said, "you have behaved like a man with no religion at all", and giving him the bread and wine he had received as wages that day, asked him to "serve these unfortunate men with humility and good humor, then, and not until then, tell them to stop robbing and killing". The outcome? The brigands were not only converted, but joined the fraternity , and "died the death of saints".
Spoto also gives an insight into the different personalities of those who joined his fraternity, and the changes/challenges that occurred as growing numbers wanted to join Francis's way of life . As Spoto argues, Francis wished others to be free from the obsession with money and things; to have a total dependence on God was liberating for him,not a deprivation. " Who are You my dearest God? And what am I, but your useless servant" was his mantra. I for one want to lead a less materialistic and self centred life after reading this book. Thank you, and as Francis said to everyone he met, "May the Lord give you peace!".