Pulled in two directions

“You what?!

“I had him baptized. With the name Giovanni, in honor of John the Baptist.”

“The Baptist is the wackiest one in that whole wacky religion. And you named my son after such a man? I don’t want a man of God – I want a man of business! A man of the world! A man who will inherit my hard work and success, and who will multiply my profits!

“I’m his father; his name is my choice. I’m giving him a name that will show to everyone that he is a man of the real world, a man of the times. I’m calling him – Francesco!”

This Italian infant had been given the baptismal name “John” by his mother; his father named him, essentially, “Frenchman.” The competing values these two names represented continued to pull this child in different directions – much as they do all of us. The world and the Kingdom of God. The flesh and the spirit. God and Mammon.

“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus taught his disciples (Matt. 6:24). And we understand the lesson as we are daily pulled in multiple directions, trying to stay focused on God, but sometimes unsure of what that would even look like.

The boy in the story was tossed back and forth between the values of his earthly father (and his own love of fashion) and the consistent tug of his holy Father on his heart. The legends say that as he grew up he was a hit at every social event, always the best-dressed, and he sought his glory in military campaigns. And yet, they also say that once, after turning away a couple of people begging for alms, he later ran after them and gave them all the money he had in his pockets.

This young man would eventually choose which master he would serve wholeheartedly: God. And as he made this choice – not just once, but every day, in so many actions large and small – our young Giovanni Francesco became St. Francis of Assisi.

We know St. Francis as the little statue people keep in the gardens, a lover of animals and all of nature. As a wealthy man who turned away from his inheritance to take a vow of poverty. A man who nursed lepers in their suffering. A man who received holy visions. We think of him as one of the great heroes of the faith, a man almost otherworldly in his devotion to God.

Many denominations (including Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran) commemorate St. Francis on October 4. It’s a reminder to reflect on the way St. Francis lived: how this man was able to walk a path of serving God as his one true master; how this man’s life of faith can help us to see and understand Jesus and the call to follow only him.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and [Gentiles], Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:18, 23-25).

The way of God was foolishness to St. Francis’s father. One story tells of Francis hearing God say: “go and repair my church!” Francis immediately sold some cloth from his father’s store and gave the money to the local priest. Then, he hid from his father in a cave. This was a smart move – because when his father found him, he dragged Francis home and locked him up in a storage closet. He took Francis to court and demanded that he stop using family possessions so wastefully; Francis resigned his inheritance and all the wealth of his family – even the clothes on his back.

For Francis, committing to God meant living in a way that was only wasteful foolishness to his father. 

That is the way of the Christ – the way of our crucified savior. A way that doesn’t make sense, because it is so contrary to so many of the values of the world around us.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.”

C.S. Lewis

As we remember St. Francis, let’s reflect on how God is making each of us into “little Christs” and how we can serve God as our only master in our own daily lives.

A prayer by ST. Franics for meditating on the crucifix.

Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense, and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out your holy and true command. Amen.


Pr. Kate

Oct. 5, 2022

Rev. Katherine Museus Dabay serves as university pastor at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and takes turns writing weekly devotions with University Pastor James A. Wetzstein.