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    The Happy Man in the Hair Shirt

    There was nothing negative about Francis of Assisi’s asceticism. It was as positive as a passion, even a pleasure.

    By G. K. Chesterton

    July 24, 2022
    • KFBFinnegan

      I never tire of the help of St GK! The patron Saint of encouragement. Thank you for this.

    Would I might wake Saint Francis in you all,
    Brother of birds and trees, God’s Troubadour,
    Blinded with weeping for the sad and poor;
    Our wealth undone, all strict Franciscan men,
    Come, let us chant the canticle again
    Of mother earth and the enduring sun.
    God make each soul the lonely leper’s slave;
    God make us saints, and brave.

    —Vachel Lindsay, “St. Francis of Assisi”

    Painting of St Francis of Assisi by Jusepe de Ribera

    Jusepe de Ribera, Saint Francis of Assisi, oil on canvas, 1642

    The whole point about Saint Francis of Assisi is that he certainly was ascetical and he certainly was not gloomy. As soon as ever he had been unhorsed by the glorious humiliation of his vision of dependence on the divine love, he flung himself into fasting and vigil exactly as he had flung himself furiously into battle. He had wheeled his charger clean round, but there was no halt or check in the thundering impetuosity of his charge. There was nothing negative about it; it was not a regimen or a stoical simplicity of life. It was not self-denial merely in the sense of self-control. It was as positive as a passion; it had all the air of being as positive as a pleasure. He devoured fasting as a man devours food. He plunged after poverty as men have dug madly for gold. And it is precisely the positive and passionate quality of this part of his personality that is a challenge to the modern mind in the whole problem of the pursuit of pleasure. There undeniably is the historical fact; and there attached to it is another moral fact almost as undeniable. It is certain that he held on this heroic or unnatural course from the moment when he went forth in his hair-shirt into the winter woods to the moment when he desired even in his death agony to lie bare upon the bare ground, to prove that he had and that he was nothing. And we can say, with almost as deep a certainty, that the stars which passed above that gaunt and wasted corpse stark upon the rocky floor had for once, in all their shining cycles round the world of laboring humanity, looked down upon a happy man.

    From G. K. Chesterton, Saint Francis of Assisi (George H. Doran Company, 1924), 119.

    Contributed By GKChesterton G. K. Chesterton

    Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874–1936) was an English author of literary criticism, fiction, and theology. He befriended authors H. G. Wells, G. B. Shaw, and Hilaire Belloc, a fellow Catholic with whom he advocated for the distribution of land.

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