The following comes from an October 4 Catholic News Agency article by Matt Hadro:
St. Francis is often cited as an example of poverty – he and his friars worked and begged for just enough food and resources to survive. The saint is also known for his love of creation, and statutes of the friar adorn many gardens. He is the patron of animals, ecology, and the environment and wrote the Canticle of the Sun where he praises God and His creation.
But the saint loved God first and creation in its proper order, stressed Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., a biographer of St. Francis.
“He loved nature and animals, and they caused him not only to pray and praise God but to become ecstatic. Nature was a reason for him to praise God, and he loved nature. But there was no confusion between nature and God for Francis,” he said.
Fr. Augustine wrote the book, “Francis of Assisi: A New Biography,” published in 2012. “One of the principal conclusions of my book is that Francis had no political projects, whether for the Church or for the society,” he told CNA.
“In fact, the idea that he would put himself in a position of knowing better than other people is completely contrary to his desire to be a servant of all and be below everyone else,” he said.
Francis’ love of creation really points to “the Christo-centrism of his spirituality,” said Brother William Short, a professor of spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology in California.
“We can trivialize it and make Francis kind of a tree-hugger,” he told CNA, but “his Canticle of the creatures is a really profound way of understanding not just the presence of God, but the presence of Christ within all of creation.”
Brother William noted that there are false assumptions that Francis was eccentric and was purely a poet and mystic who was “vague on the details” and “not very well organized.” On the contrary, he said, Francis actually showed “very clear ideas and was very good at expressing them” and had “organizational and administrative skill” in founding three orders.
Another lesser-known side of Francis is the deeply religious and pious man who put a strict emphasis on care for the sacred vessels at Mass, reverence for the Eucharist, and obedience to the Church.
“The one case where he’s harsh in his deathbed confession is he says if there are any friars who are not Catholic or do not follow the books of the Roman Church for their services, they are to be arrested, put in chains, and held to be handed over to the corrector of the order, the Cardinal of Ostia,” Fr. Augustine said.
Of Francis’ nine letters, he added, “seven of them are basically dedicated to chastising priests for using unpolished chalices, dirty altar linen, and not keeping the sacrament in a suitable place.”
Claims that Francis excoriated the clergy for their decadence were false and circulated by excommunicates decades after his death, Fr. Augustine added.
“Francis never displays in any authentic documents about him or his own writings anything except absolute submission, obedience to the hierarchy,” he said.
“The stories about him humiliating prelates and so forth about not living poorly are stories that date to over 100 years after his death and come out of circles of radical Franciscans who have been excommunicated by the Pope and are against the hierarchy.”