I just finished the biography of St. Francis of Assisi by the very eloquent G.K. Chesterton. I am left in awe, inspired by one of the characteristics that distinguished him from other men. It is a quality I was created to desire and redeemed to fully receive. But also what I am called to imitate if I want to taste God’s heart, particularly for the poor. As Jeremiah 22:16 says, “He defended the cause of the poor and the needy, and so all went well. ‘Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord.”
[Francis] only saw the image of God multiplied but never monotonous. To him a man was always a man and did not disappear in a dense crowd any more than in a desert. He honored all men; that is, he not only loved but respected them all. What gave him his extraordinary personal power was this; that from the Pope to the beggar, from the sultan of Syria in his pavilion to the ragged robbers crawling out of the wood, there was never a man who looked into those brown burning eyes without being certain that Francis was really interested in him; in his own inner individual life from the cradle to the grave; that he himself was being valued and taken seriously, and not merely added to the spoils of some social policy or the names in some clerical document. This was really and truly the only attitude that will appeal to that part of man to which he wished to appeal. It cannot be done by giving gold or even bread; for it is a proverb that any reveler may fling largesse in mere scorn. It cannot be done by giving time and attention; for any number of philanthropists and benevolent bureaucrats do such work with a scorn far more cold and horrible in their hearts. No plans or proposals or efficient rearrangements will give back to a broken man his self-respect and sense of speaking with an equal. One gesture will do it.
A friend recently was explaining to me what makes him feel loved by his friends; “to feel understood”. This is it – we all want to be known. We crave someone to look, understand and fully accept us. Of course we do – we were created to know and be known by our Creator. In Luke 7:11-17, Jesus demonstrated this in the flesh by looking past a crowd of people to see an individual, a widowed woman. Looking preceded compassion, kindness then healing action. And he has looked at me filled with the same compassion, fully known me and compelled me to look at the broken and poor of this world in the same way; to those who have been without a voice, dignity or respect. I am called to look at each individual story, each wound and each lie that has infected their lives. All the passion in my heart is ignited by this, though I fall so short and am conflicted by a desire for self-focus.
Francis of Assisi, I see this example you have given me. Oh to be a person who looks and sees.