ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI, LEADERSHIP, & APPLE BERRY UPSIDE DOWN CAKE
Oldest known portrait of “Brother Francis at Subiaco,” a mural painted in a sacred grotto called St. Benedict’s Cave during the years 1223-1224
St. Francis of Assisi is a beloved and well-known saint throughout the world. He was born in either 1181 or 1182 in Assisi, Italy. He founded the Franciscan Order of Friar Minors and Sisters lived the gospels in obedience to the Church, traveled in peace to the Middle East during the crusades, created the first Nativity scene, saw God in everyone and everything, received the Stigmata of Christ Crucified, inspired countless people in his lifetime and continues to inspire us today.
He is the patron saint of animals and ecology, and he’s honored in the Roman Catholic, Anglican (including Episcopal), and Lutheran Churches. St. Francis is one of two patron saints of Italy (along with Catherine of Siena) and many other places throughout the world, including San Francisco, CA, in the United States. He died on October 3, 1226, and his feast day, October 4, is usually celebrated with a Blessing of the Animals.
October 3 is my birthday and October 4 is my daughter’s birthday. I love St. Francis of Assisi. Without him, Saints and Recipes wouldn’t exist at all.
*sigh* I thought this would be the post in which I return from my two-year spiritual journey and really get back to work in sharing my research about the saints. I thought maybe instead of writing them in the form of academic papers, I would lighten up and shape them more like book recommendations.
This post in particular was supposed to be a zoomed in look at Francis’s (Second) Rule of Order based on what I believe he was trying to tell me via messages. Messages, although really unclear to me in the beginning, that were about leadership and my path. Something to do with accepting myself as a loving caretaker/badass. Someone like the imaginary Professor Minerva McGonagall. Someone like St. Francis of Assisi himself.
So I began reading where I left off two years ago in Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson, O.P. I love the fact that the author is a Dominican and not a Franciscan because he was able to be objective about his subject. The book reads more like history than legend and includes lots of source material, yet the author’s love for St. Francis is clear.
So I’m reading along, minding my own business, when I get to the part shortly after Francis returns from Rome with his first few followers having received papal permission to form an order based on three gospel passages. He and his group stayed in an abandoned hut by the Rivo Torto about two miles outside of the city of Assisi, close to a hospital for people suffering from leprosy. Francis, and his increasing number of followers, assisted in caring for the lepers, and also worked as day laborers to provide for the group. And then this paragraph appeared, and I suddenly felt like St. Francis was speaking directly to me:
Francis quickly learned the burden of responsibility involved in caring for his few subordinates, especially when conditions were hard. On one occasion at Rivo Torto, a brother woke in the middle of the night and cried out that he was dying of hunger. Francis, showing already the sensitivity that would make him a revered doctor of souls, had the whole community get up and eat with the brother so that he would not be shamed by having to eat alone. This also involved the entire group in resolving a difficulty that might merely have remained a private one between superior and subject. Francis used the event as an opportunity to counsel moderation in fasting and self-mortification. His first followers were prone to exaggerated and destructive mortification that had little to do with the Gospel texts that inspired their leader. Francis’s natural feelings of compassion for suffering, the same trait that drew him to the lepers, found expression in the care of sick and confused brothers. – pg 30-31 Francis of Assisi: A new Biography by Augustine Thompson O.P.
And then I wept. Because I realized this was the message he’d been trying to send me. This is an example of true leadership. This is the type of leadership I’ve been searching for without ever realizing it.
And so while I do wholeheartedly recommend the above biography, I won’t continue reading or posting about his Rule of Order at this time.
My assignment is clear now. Francis wants me to write about my spiritual journey from the point of view of leadership. You get that “spiritual journey” is code for hurt/breakdown/exploration/renewal right?
God knows, I don’t want to write these words. God knows, I’ve held these people accountable and forgiven them. God knows I don’t want to keep reliving this stuff, I want to break the pattern, I want to let go and move on.
And yet, through St. Francis, I know God is telling me that it’s time to share my shame story. That I’ll never be able to get past it until I do, that it’s a major step in my healing. And so I post this on the last day of Mercury Retrograde and the first day of Autumn. Maybe the release of these words will clear the way for 50th birthday sunshine and daisies. At least, that’s my hope for the future. Here goes:
When you are my leader, you don’t get to tell me I’m not good with youth and I’m a terrible public speaker. You don’t get to tell me I’m overreacting and you don’t want to talk about it. And no matter how kind you are to me on the surface, you don’t get to beam undercurrents of unspoken rage at me for months on end.
When you are my leader, you don’t get to berate me in a global email and then offer an obscure, late night, private, apology email. And when I ask in person for clarification in the hope of reconciliation, you don’t get to accuse me of taking over the group, seeking glory for my daughter, over promoting non-diocese conferences, and being boring with all that saint stuff. And when I say to you twice, “Do you realize how much you are hurting me right now?” You don’t get to say, “I have to do it for the youth and I’m speaking for everyone.” Twice. You don’t get to say that, because that was a lie. You lied to me and I believed you. You don’t get to lie to others that I “attacked” you, when I did nothing more than defend myself and try to appease you. You don’t get to pretend that this event never happened, or worse that you did a good thing by kicking me out of the group. You don’t get to get away with never apologizing to me for your tirade.
When you are my leader, you don’t get to refuse my repeated requests for a conflict resolution meeting. You don’t get to keep the lid on the flames that erupted with the youth volunteers and assure the staff that you have the situation under control. You don’t get to “counsel” us individually and never actually deal with the problem. You don’t get to lie to us to keep us quiet.
When you are my leader, you don’t get to treat me with condescension and chauvinism. And when I’m finally desperate enough to ask you for any kind of help with this situation whatsoever, and mention to you that I believe Blessed Mother Mary is sending me messages through angelic signs, you don’t get to tell me, “In time, you will see that that’s not so.” I mean, as far as delusions go, it’s pretty harmless. (Also, not a delusion.) You don’t get to tell me I’m doing healing prayers all wrong and I shouldn’t say those nontraditional phrases. God knows I’m laity! And when I finally speak the real problem of the unresolved conflict, you don’t get to tell me it doesn’t matter what she did to me because you think she’s good with the youth.
When you are my leader, you don’t get to tell me you trust my parish’s clergy to handle the matter and you’ll make sure we aren’t in the same small group or cabin, but that’s all.
When you are my leader, you don’t get to hold my book proposal for a full year before a yay or nay when your policy is six weeks. You don’t get to give me an article assignment without guidelines, edit my words dramatically and embarrassingly, and publish without my knowledge of the changes. And when I let you know I’m upset about this, you don’t get to say I’m overreacting and then offer fake apologies which I force myself to believe for the sake of peace. And the next year, you don’t get to hold our exchange against me and lie about there just not being enough room for my words at all.
When you are my leader, and I announce that gun violence in our country is absolutely a political matter, you don’t get to tell me to shut up. Again.
When you are my leader, you don’t get to keep me small in that box you keep trying to shove me back into. You don’t get to tell me it’s better if I don’t visit you. You don’t get to tell me you took me off as executor of your will and that you don’t want me involved with the doctors in case of medical emergency. And when you do, and I point out that you hurt my feelings, you don’t get to become irate, blame me for deserving it, tell me I’m too sensitive and then hang up the phone on me. Again. And later, you don’t get to call me up, pretend it never happened, and actually expect me to act happy, normal, and accepting. Again. You don’t get to tell me that you were raised by an addictive personality, too, but that you sucked it up and went on with your life and that’s what I have to do. Yeah, no. You don’t get to watch me raise my daughter the way your raised me because I stopped the cycle.
When you are my leader, you listen to me cry out and guide me without shame.
It seems such a simple thing.
But, there’s more to the message in the above paragraph from the Dominican’s biography. Francis’s humility got in the way of his leadership. Although he had the ability and compassion to lead his followers, he wanted always to be a follower and not a leader. This would have worked out for him if he were able to choose the right leaders. And this is where a little bit of his crazy comes through. It was simply illogical for him to follow people who were not following his Rule of Order. And so he suffered.
To me it seems perhaps (and I’m not 100% certain), that St. Francis worked so hard seeking humility through obedience of others that he forgot that Jesus was his leader, that Jesus listened to him cry out and guided him without shame.
At least, that’s what I believe St. Francis has been trying to tell me about myself. That with Jesus in my heart and me in His, I don’t need another leader.
See, my audience is not anyone I need to impress with my knowledge or defend against with my neat list of resources. My audience is you. Those who recognize themselves as having the same types of problems with people that I did in the above situations.
In my case, it’s called freeing myself from the addiction to approval seeking and people pleasing.
Maybe St. Francis is telling me that because I’ve been there, I can be of help to you. Maybe I can help steer you toward healing.
Maybe I’m one who can hear you cry out at night, maybe I’m one who’ll listen to your story and guide you without shame.
If you want, tell me your situation in the comments or an email. I’ll probably suggest a particular book for you to read. Or maybe I’ll be granted an insight about your situation that I can share with you. At the very least, I can pray for you!
Meanwhile, let’s bake. But not just bake, let’s imagine St. Francis isn’t only a saint in history books and legends. Let’s imagine he isn’t only an inspiration to countless people around the world, include Pope Francis, his namesake. Let’s imagine he isn’t only speaking from heaven to the hearts of those on earth who seek him out and listen.
Let’s imagine he’s coming to dinner! Let’s imagine we want to make him the perfect autumn dessert. And so, let’s do it for real with a cake that speaks to Francis’s sometimes upside-down logic. I think he would laugh and enjoy it, especially on a feast day:
APPLE BERRY UPSIDE DOWN CAKE
(More photos below.)
1 ½ sticks butter, softened, separated
½ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup honey
2 organic or local apples, peeled and sliced
1 cup fresh or frozen berries (don’t thaw frozen ones)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Melt ½ stick butter and pour into lightly greased 9-inch round 2-inch high cake pan.
Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together in medium size bowl with fork. Sprinkle mixture over melted butter in pan.
Drizzle honey over brown sugar. Spread apple slices over brown sugar mixture. Sprinkle with frozen berries.
With electric mixer, beat sugar and 1 stick butter at medium speed until blended. Add eggs, blend.
In a medium size bowl, stir together flour and baking powder with fork.
Add flour mixture to sugar mixture, blend. Add milk and vanilla. Blend.
Pour batter over berries in pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 50 minutes or until a wooden toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean.
Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.
Carefully, run a knife around the edge of cake to loosen from pan. Turn cake upside down onto a serving plate. Gently lift off pan. Slice to serve.
(Originally posted on 9/22/2016 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger.)