St. Francis and Christ
St. Francis’ way of life, as we shall see, integrated the spirit of self-denial as taught by Christ with action in the world. His life and teaching give us an example of someone molding his life to the spirit of the Gospels. St. Francis practiced the imitation of Christ, but he did so humbly. St. Francis research papers note that “he created a new Christ life; a Christ life partial and reduced from the breadth and balance of the original, yet veritable and living. ” Francis’ miniaturization of Christ in his own person accepted a fundamental reality, the difference between the Son of God and man. And it turned away from an imitation based on strict literalism, a strict literalism that would have made of Christian piety something analogous to the Hebrew observances of the Mosaic Law, a kind of religious devotion which early Christian writers, including Paul, thought outmoded and mechanical. It is the spirit of the example and words of Christ to which St. Francis adhered, not a futile attempt to reenact His life and passion.
That Jesus practiced austerity and that he was anti-materialistic in the extreme is obvious, but he was willing to “bend the rules” at times in a way that no fanatic would have done. When Mary anoints his feet with spikenard (“very costly”) and Judas protests that the spikenard should have been sold and given to the poor, Jesus dismisses this (John 12:38). The one example of extreme mortification practiced by Jesus was the passion.