Archive for the ‘St. Francis of Assisi’ Category

On Francis

May 21, 2009

My article marking the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan order appears in this week’s issue of Our Sunday Visitor.  It was a piece I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing.  Francis is an amazing figure in Church history — far more compelling than the most common images of him that we sometimes see around us (i.e., the guy who talked to birds).   In fact, Mary DeTurris Poust, an author whose work I often enjoy, does a very good job of making that point in a column that appears in the same issue of OSV

So especially if you’re a Francis fan, or even curious to see what all the fuss over him is about, it’s a great issue to check out.


Adventures in Interviewing

April 22, 2009

Today I finished up work on an article I’ve been preparing for Our Sunday Visitor, which marks the 800th anniversary of St. Francis receiving approval from the Pope for the new order he had founded. Quite a wonderful moment to give thanks, if you consider the enormous impact that Francis and his followers have made on Christian spirituality, theology, liturgy, charity, and the pursuit of social justice these past eight centuries!giotto20-20dream_of_innocent_iii1

It was in 1209 that a raggedy-looking Francis, accompanied by some less-than-impressive-looking companions, appeared before Pope Innocent III, asking for papal approval. The Pope might not even have received the filthy man, but for the dream he had recently had – the Lateran Basilica (Christendom’s mother church, and then the headquarters of the Pope) tipping dangerously to one side, about to fall, except for a man holding it up firmly against his shoulder. The Pope recognized Francis as the man from his dream, received him, and did approve of his new community.  (The image here is the great artist Giotto’s rendering of the dream.)

But all that, and more, is in the article, which will be appearing in OSV soon enough. I had an interesting time doing the research for the piece.

For one, I was fortunate enough to come upon Dr. Susan Pitchford, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Pitchford is a Third Order Franciscan and the author of Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone. Oh, and she’s Anglican.

No, she’s not an Anglican who decided to elbow her way into a Catholic order. The order itself is Anglican. I had to embarrassedly admit that I had no idea there was an Anglican Franciscan order (or, for that matter, any other orders within the Anglican Church).

Anyway, she was fascinating to talk to, offering far more insightful observations about St. Francis and what it means to take him as a teacher and guide to Christian living than I could ever fit into the 1,400 words assigned to me. I haven’t read her book (yet), but if my conversation with her is any indication, it’s worth a look.

On the other hand, there was my encounter with a Franciscan priest whose anonymity I’ll protect. Looking for a good resource, I was perusing the homepage of one of the prominent Franciscan provinces here in the United States. And on their list of contacts, he was identified as the Director of Communications. The guy whose job description includes talking to the press about Franciscan stuff.  Just the type of person I needed.

I dialed his office.

He answered: “Yeah?”

Had I dialed wrong, I wondered. “Um … is this Father [Name]?”

“Oh, yes.” Caught off guard. “That’s me.”

“Oh good.” I introduced myself and said I was preparing an article for OSV on the 800th anniversary of Francis founding the order.

“Okay, hold on juuuuuuust one second.” Pause. “Alright. Let me just close this up.” Pause.  “Favorites. Click that. Close that.” More pause, then more pause.

“Father, if there’s a better time I could call—“

“Oh, no no! What can I do for you?”

I told him again that I was preparing an article on the 800th anniversary of Francis founding the order.

“Oh, sure. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t there. But I can give you the names of a couple of guys who were.”

Wow!  He really is good at communications!  Actually, he obviously thought I was talking about the big meeting in Assisi and Rome last week.

“Um, no, Father—“

“I couldn’t make it.”

“No, Father, I’m talking about the founding of the order. Eight hundred years ago.”

“Oh! I see. Well, all of the information is available on the website.” He gave me the web address.

“Well, actually Father, I’m familiar with the history. I was hoping to get a few helpful insights about the importance and meaning of it all.”  (Quotes!  I needed interesting quotes for the article!  You quote a person, not a website.  And the Director of Communications should “get” that!)

“Oh, okay.”

“Could I ask you a few questions?”


“Great.” I usually start off with an easy one, get them warmed up. “Well, there was that moment when Francis was sitting in the church of San Damiano, and the crucifix spoke to him, ‘Rebuild my church.’ Could you tell me a little bit about the significance of that for Francis?”

“Um.” Big pause. “I’ll tell you what. I’m not really good at giving information off the cuff. Would you mind if you give me some time to think about this, and then I’ll call you back?”

“Oh, sure, Father, absolutely.” He asked for my number, and I gave it. Of the list of questions I actually had in front of me, I chose two other simple ones (obviously I couldn’t read the list out so he could think about them all) and mentioned them.

“Sure. I’ll call you right back. I promise.”

I never heard from him again. The Director of, you know, Communications.

Fortunately, I ended up getting in contact with Fr. Dominic Monti – through Jocelyn Thomas, the very helpful and professional Director of Communications of the Holy Name Province. Fr. Dominic is the author of the recent book Francis and His Brothers: A Popular History of the Franciscan Friars. Despite the fact that Fr. Dominic was out of town and in meetings all day, Ms. Thomas put me in touch with him and he cheerfully spoke to me for twenty minutes while waiting for a train at the end of a long day. He offered some very important information that I hadn’t yet come across.

I truly did enjoy preparing the article. Many thanks to Dr. Pitchford, Ms. Thomas, Fr. Dominic, and that other guy, the Director of, you know, Communications.

My letter to Nancy Pelosi (sent Tuesday)

September 18, 2008

Dear Madam Speaker:

I enjoyed watching (on C-SPAN’s Book TV) your recent appearance at a Washington synagogue, talking about your book Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters.  As the father of five daughters, a Catholic, and a religion teacher at a Catholic high school, I was very interested in what you had to say. 

I was particularly impressed by how comfortable you clearly are in speaking about your Catholic faith and how it intersects with your public service.  You invoked St. Francis and didn’t hesitate to speak of him as the patron of your hometown, or to quote his important maxim, “Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words.”  You invoked Catholic social justice principles and cited them as a foundation for your own work in working for policies and laws that respect all people.  You even spoke of a “spark of the divine” that is in each person, to which we must respond with laws that protect and respect them, regardless of who they are.  You cited examples of care for the environment, living wage, health care, and other policies that have been put in place in San Francisco, and said you prefer to speak of respect rather than tolerance, because speaking of tolerance belittles those who are different from us (I agree; it’s a good distinction.)  You said these matters are not political issues to you, but values to be upheld.

Ms. Pelosi, while I admired and agreed with all of this as I listened, I write today because it’s difficult to understand why you are willing to leave out one important piece from that beautiful mosaic of thinking about personal integrity in public service: working for laws that protect and respect the unborn. 

I am one of those who has been disappointed with your recent public comments about abortion, as well as those of Senator Obama and Senator Biden, all of which seem intentionally to ignore the very clear fact that when human life begins is not, fundamentally, a matter of faith at all, but of science.   

But having watched you at the synagogue event, I’m more confused still, since you so clearly do not hesitate to stand by the principles of human dignity in other cases, despite the fact and even because of the fact that they are rooted in your own faith tradition.  And you do it even regarding issues that are controversial, about which many people disagree with you.  (I applaud you for that.)

An illustration of what I mean, then I’ll finish: Obviously, some of the San Francisco policies you cited with approval – access to health care for every child and a living (rather than “minimum”) wage, for example – are not universally embraced with enthusiasm.  Suppose someone objected to these by saying, “I saw you on C-SPAN defending these policies by saying there’s a ‘spark of the divine’ in every person that must be respected, and these laws do that.  But I don’t believe in God or any divine spark, so don’t you force your faith on me by enacting laws that suggest there is.” 

I bet (and I’d hope) that your response would be something to this effect: “Though my faith tells me that divine spark is there, I needn’t be a person of faith to understand that we must respect every single person, and our laws must protect every single person.  Human dignity and human transcend any religion.”  And you’d be right.

So why is abortion different?  

In both cases we’re talking about an issue of human dignity (one that is part of the teaching of your religious faith, but transcends it, because we’re dealing with human life and human rights), and an issue that not everyone agrees upon.  Why is it so hard to stand up here and say, “You may disagree with me, but this is a fundamental issue of human dignity to which I must be true”?

In closing, Ms. Pelosi, I have to say that I agree with you and most of your Democratic colleagues about many things – including the crucial matter of the War in Iraq.  I think this war was a mistake in the first place, and that it was mishandled throughout.  And yet I won’t be able to vote for Senator Obama in the upcoming election, because abortion, to me, is an even more fundamental issue.  How could it be otherwise: over 3000 Americans have died in Iraq in the past six years – that’s how many died by abortion in the last day or two.   

A comment I read on the internet recently reflects my own thinking: “Don’t the Democrats realize if they’d drop their passionate commitment to abortion rights, they’d win every election?”  Ms. Pelosi, I can tell you they would have my vote, every time.


Barry Michaels 

The award-winning essay: Anne Marie Hauge on St. Francis

January 1, 2008


To mark the publication of my Saints for Our Times: New Novenas and Prayers, Pauline Books and I co-sponsored a student essay writing contest this fall.  This week I announce the winners of that essay which drew around 75 entries from around the country. 

Here is the essay that won First Place (as judged by my wife and I and our kids).


“Love without Boundaries,” on St. Francis of Assisi, was written by Anne Marie Hauge, an about-to-turn-15 year-old student at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Wichita, Kansas.  Anne Marie wins $30 and a signed copy of Saints for Our Times




Congratulations to Anne Marie and the other winners!  I’ll be posting the other two prize-winning essay in the days ahead.  (All the winners’ names are posted at


“Love Without Boundaries”

     “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” What is meant by these words of St. Francis, and how is this important and applicable to our society? St. Francis of Assisi told us how. Not only that, he showed us how to live out this message in daily life. This message that he lived out was the message of-love.
       St. Francis’s whole life was spent in search for love. As a young man, he sought love in parties and a material life. It was only when he gave of himself completely to God that he found love. This is the message that he gives to all people: LOVE! Love your neighbor without reserve! Love God with all that you have, with your whole being! Love unconditionally, and let your love be unquenchable. This is what St. Francis wants to get across in his words. Our actions MUST be with love. Even if what we say is good and loving, it will mean nothing if our actions are not love itself. Faith without works is dead, and so too is love without works also dead. Love is not real, true love without actions that reflect it. St. Francis wants us to know this, for it is extremely relevant in today’s society.
     Everybody seeks happiness. Many people seek happiness through dating and material goods, hoping to find the love that will give them happiness. The happiness found in material goods is not lasting-St. Francis discovered this! Neither is it sincerely a true love that will give true joy and happiness. Some times people do not even find the love that they seek through dating relationships. When these relationships end, a person is left feeling unloved. Many people do not have the realization that true love and joy comes only from God-it is He who gives us the ability to love without boundaries. We live in such a broken world, where many people seek joy and love. St. Francis’s message of love needs to be brought to everyone, so that people will discover the true love and joy that is only found in God.
     God does not have us on this Earth to be “comfortable.” He does not want us to try to be in our “comfort zone.” God wants us to radically love everyone we meet, and treat them with His love. I spend much time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, begging God to help fill me with His love, and to help me give it to others. I have discovered that when you give all that you have to God and others, you receive such love for others that is unconditional. The more love you give, the more love you receive from God to give.
Give yourself to God, and He will work wonders. I sought joy in my life, and it was only when I gave everything to God that I found true joy and love.