Once I converted back to the Catholic Faith, I read every book and watched every movie I could get my hands on that were about the Saints. One film that I immediately hated was the 1972 film version of the life of Saint Francis titled Brother Sun, Sister Moon. I thought that the director, Franco Zeffirelli, though incredibly talented, overplayed the tenuous similarities between Francis and the then current counter-culture movement. I mean one taught abandonment and renunciation to God, and the other self-gratification and degeneracy. But when I looked again at the film, through the lens of Zeffirelli's earlier work, Romeo and Juliet, I begin to see truly what he was trying to achieve. Now, I think the film admirably tried to shed light upon the youthful love and joy in which Francis and Saint Clare entered upon their perspective spiritual journeys. As we often forget that Francis was, at the most, 23 years old when he began his ascetical life; Clare was a mere 18 when she entered a Benedictine convent. We have no clear idea of what they looked like, but they both must have been celestially beautiful, inside and out, as the two future Saints immediately drew a large following. This is reflected in the painfully gorgeous actors and cinematography in Brother Sun, especially by the other-worldly Judi Bowker who played Clare. This is a powerful message that resonates even today: that holiness and sanctity can be beautiful. Some have a common misconception that the Saints were always grim, sullen, and grouchy, continually fasting and whipping themselves half-to-death. For this reason, I have always loved the polychrome statues of the Saints in their glorified bodies: smiling and perfectly fashioned. In Brother Sun, we get a glimpse of that heavenly bliss.
On this day of Saint Francis, I want to particularly pray for all those lost in sin and corruption in the city named after him: San Francisco. I think it is no coincidence that a New World citadel, that would one day become the capital of sexual vice and homosexuality, was founded under the patronage of a man who left behind his own somewhat sordid past filled with an overabundance of luxurious living and frivolous amusements. When I was trapped in that hollow existence, I had no idea that the holy relics of this great man where just a few steps away on the edge of North Beach. May all those in darkness, so near to our beloved Saint, become aware of his Holy intercession on their behalf. Happy St. Francis Day.