Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Review: Saint Francis by Robert West

Around the first of August, I received the book “Saint Francis” written by Robert West, from BookSneeze , with the agreement that I would read and review this book on my blog. Then I was hit by the tsunamis we call life and was swept along in other currents. I am finally able to fulfill my commintment to BookSneeze, albeit, a bit late.

Why did I select this book from those available to read and review? I’m not Catholic, and so reading about a Saint may seem an unusual choice. I have always heard of Saint Francis being referred to as the “Patron Saint of Animals”. I am an admitted animal lover, and this is where my interest in this man was piqued. As I read pages and pages about this man’s life, I began to despair of learning why he is called the Patron Saint of Animals. Finally near the end of the book, this aspect of the man is addressed on a few pages.

Much of what West writes in this biography is conjecture or story-has-it type of things rather than confirmed fact. This is because of necessity due to the fact that Francis lived in the late 1100’s to 1226. It would be impossible to write about a person living that long ago and have documented facts to support the writing. The author did a good job of informing the reader when actual fact is being written and when possible facts are used. Still, it remains a question of whether this book should be considered a non-fictional or fictional recounting of this life.

Saint Francis was born to an affluent family of that time. He wore the best of clothes, partied and indulged in many of the worldly pleasures of that time. At about the age of 20, he was imprisoned during battle and fell deathly ill. It was miraculous that he survived. This seems to be the turning point in his life.

After this time, he forsook his life of ease and gaiety to embrace a life of continual poverty. Some may say that he was “touched by God” while others will declare that the illness had left him “touched” in the head. Yet, miracles happened that attest to the divinity of his actions. Either way, I admire this about the man: he didn’t just talk the talk, but in every aspect of his life, he walked the walk. He was apparently a very humble man, albeit he was a founder and leader of his followers known as the Franciscans. All who followed him were expected to give up their riches and embrace a simple and impoverished life. After a time, there were many who did become followers and members of the Franciscans. For some it was too much to ask that they abandon every comfort in life to become penniless beggars and live a life of abject poverty. Speaking for myself, I can say that if Saint Francis’ chosen path of poverty is the key to the heavenly gates, I’m not sure I could obtain said key. Would I give up my laptop, my shower, my assured daily bread and go out and live as a beggar, not knowing from where my next meal would come? I don’t know that I could do that, even if I believed with all my heart that I was called of God to do so. Indeed, some would say it would be a crazy choice, yet, I admire that St. Francis felt called to do this and so did it. No questions…no turning back. Could I follow his lead?…no. Do I admire his ability to do this?…absolutely.

Was this book worth reading? Yes. I am glad I learned more about this amazing man, even though I would probably dub him the Patron Saint of the Poor rather than the Patron Saint of Animals, at least based on this book.