Saint Francis (as we now know him) was summoned to Rome to meet Pope Innocent III in 1210 A D.
Poor Francesco of Assisi (Saint Francis) had been a very bad boy. In fact, he was so bad that the Catholic elite in the little town of Assisi had burned down Francesco’s church.
Why? Francesco was living as Jesus had lived: with a tender heart that loved all. As Jesus had instructed, Francesco looked after the poor and the widows and orphans.
Then why did the Catholic elite burn down his church outside of Assisi?
Well, Francesco’s church was rather “artistic” — sheep and lambs came to mass with their shepherds. Field flowers graced their modest altar — not the groomed flowers of the rich and traditional church.
But it was not solely about fashion, it never is.
It was about money.
Elite Catholicism saw Francesco as a threat to the infrastructure — for he was not about power, he was about responsibility. The people of Assisi had left the traditional church to follow the pure out-of-towner. The elite was losing their coin.
The meeting in Rome with Pope Innocent III was a disaster for the Catholic church.
What should have been a public chastisement of Francesco by the Pope was instead a public humiliation of the Pope Innocent III.
So overwhelmed by Francesco’s love for God and for God’s people, so moved by his humility and charity, the Pope abandoned his golden throne, stepped down to the “audience hall”, fell to his knees, and in an act of complete humility, kissed the feet of barefooted Francesco.
What’s in a name? The name “Pope Francis” carries irony and historical power. By taking the name “Francis”, it signifies something grand — the possibility of the triumph by a humble heart.
Below is the scene from the 1972 biography of Francesco of Assisi, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Pope Leo III is brilliantly and hamily played by Alec Guinness; Francesco is played by Graham Faulkner.
It is long (16 minutes) and it is just one scene — but it is also brilliant in its subtlety. You might want to bookmark it and watch it at another time.
I can not recall a stronger enactment of the Holy Spirit in the history of cinema than this scene. Alec Guinness converted to Catholicism in 1954, long before this movie. But In his eyes and in his shaky hand pointing to the sky, you actually can see his dramatizing the unseen work of the Holy Spirit.
For all of us who might believe that the infrastructure of the Catholic church is beyond repair; perhaps we should allow the glory of God through the Holy Spirit to work. For nothing is impossible for God: a pope came down from his throne and kissed the feet of a poor man and now another Pope has taken his name.