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REFLECTIONS ON ST. FRANCIS AT THE NEW MILLENNIUM Let me start by telling the story of the first twenty years or so of the life of a young man born perhaps around 1980 from well-to-do parents. They are what we call "good Catholics"—that is, devout in their ways and generous enough to the church. The young man's father is a successful businessman. The boom economy of the last decade of the twentieth century has allowed him to prosper beyond his dreams. He plans that his son will inherit and expand the family wealth. The young man grows up in affluent circumstances. Of course, his family is not from "old money," but in our changing culture social stratifications are not as strong as they once were. He is a lively and intelligent child, receiving an education equal to his middle-class peers, though he is no scholar. His parents are particularly pleased with his leadership qualities—from an early age everybody likes him; many accept him as a natural leader. He is voted "Most likely to Succeed" in his High School class. After college, he will be ready to be launched. Then something happens to our promising youth. We're not sure whether the golden boy's life started to change when he went to college or after he got out—accounts differ and the family isn't saying. In any case, not long after the new millennium kicks in, it becomes clear that this "twenty-something" starts to become a problem to himself and his family. Rather than take up the role in society that is his due, he drops out and begins to devote himself to kooky forms of religion. His self-made father is soon beside himself with worry about what to do with his son. He might have acquiesced with his drift toward religion, if the young man had decided to enter the priesthood, but instead the boy (let's call him Frank) begins to talk about having visions and a special calling from God. Huge family rows erupt. Frank's mother tries to be understanding, but many of his family and friends think that Frank needs help. Maybe he should get a therapist. How could somebody who has been given so much be so ungrateful? What is his problem? As the new millennium lurches forward, the outlook for poor Frank is not a promising one. Franciscan Studies 58 (2000) 2 Bernard McGinn I'm sure that by now you have caught on to my little game. About 1181 or 1182 another Frank was born in the small city of Assisi. Italy in the late twelfth century was a rapidly changing society, and one of growing affluence, at least for some. The dawn of the thirteenth century marked the beginning of a new era of prosperity, as well as intellectual and cultural achievement. Change, of course, always brings challenge and controversy. Francis of Assisi's father was one of those who accepted the challenge of the growing market economy and prospered. An older contemporary of Francis, born about 1160, had accepted the challenges of the changing church of the time and emerged as an even greater success story. Young Lothario Segni entered the service of the church, received the best education possible at Paris, joined the papal court, and rose so rapidly that in 1198 he was made pope while still in his thirties. In 1200 Innocent III was "Lord of the World," while young Frank/Francis was a dropout and a failure. My brief thought experiment is designed to suggest how hard it would probably be for us at the dawn of the new millennium to be any more astute than Francis's contemporaries in the early thirteenth century at recognizing the kind of miracle of grace that he represented to his age, as well as to ours. It is possible, of course, that providence has another Francis waiting in the wings as we move forward into Christianity's third millennium. We cannot know. We might not even recognize him. What we do have, though, is Francis himself—his life, his writings, the writings about him, and the many images of Francis...


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