St. Francis, Jongleur de Dieu

Artist: 
Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist's Narrative:
Holy foolishness weaves through Judaeo-Christian spirituality like a brilliantly colored thread, tying the prophets of ancient Israel to Dorothy Day and other saints of our time. St. Paul speaks of foolishness for Christ's sake in his letters to the first Christian churches. Holy foolishness, at its heart, is a prophetic path. It names the lifeless idols we worship in place of the living God--things like our possessions, our social status, and anything else we use to prop up our egos.

Francis of Assisi embraced holy foolishness when he began his life of penance. Having once admired the elegant troubadours of southern France, he now called the motley band of his first followers jongleurs, instead. The jongleur did somersaults, stood on his head, and juggled assorted objects to entertain royal folk in between the troubadour's songs. Francis and his followers were to be jongleurs for God's people and the heavenly court.

In this icon Francis juggles three gold balls. The balls might represent faith hope and charity, the three vows religious take, or the three branches of the Franciscan family. Whatever they represent, they are precious. And yet Francis handles them playfully--a coincidence of opposites, something common in Franciscan spirituality. To keep three balls in motion requires constant attention, reminding us that spirituality is dynamic, involving relationships with God and one another.

Pentecostal flames rise from Francis' forehead, and blue light glances off his plain brown habit. His face shines. Golden light surrounds his head. He is filled with God's grace. The inscription near his head is Arabic for "Saint Francis." He lived in a time when the Christian world pitted itself against the world of Islam, a world similar to our own. As a holy fool, Francis found the freedom necessary to embrace those his fellow Christians lumped together as "enemies." The task of the holy fool is to demolish stereotypes, as he does other idols. Through the prayers of the foolish Francis may we find peace in our day. Through his prayers may we turn back to the living God.

His feast day is October 4.

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