Saintly Mirror

In researching the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, I come to realized –

1 – He was definitely a man of his times

2. He was much an Italian, that is, his use of earthly, sometimes coarse language.

3. He was an ardent Catholic.

4. He could be quite harsh at times.

Throughout the centuries after his death, the saint was transformed. He became a mirror. Some saw him as a Second Christ (alter Christus). There were serious doubts as to his receiving the stigmata. Nicholas IV , who was himself a Franciscan,
asserted the stigmata of St. Francis ; a papal bull in 1255 vindicated the claims of the miracle ; and Pope Benedict XI set apart
the 17th of September of each year as the feast of the Holy Stigmata. Many of the legends about the saint tend to replicate the events in the life of Jesus.

Others see him as a nature lover. There are many tales told of St. Francis and his affinity with animals. Often his The Canticle of the Creatures is cited as the saint’s love of nature, however, it is more about praising God the creator for the good things on earth. Nevertheless, he is the patron saint of ecology (named so by Pope St. John Paul II in 1979).

And there are those who saw him as a reformer and radical, especially in regards to his extreme poverty in contrast to the riches of the Church hierarchy. This view became popular with early writers as the Franciscan Order began to shift away from the ideals of its founder. The Franciscans were not the first to renounce worldly riches. There was the small and short-lived The Poor Catholics (Pauperes Catholici), the Order of Grandmont (known as the boni homines), as well as the lay poverty movement affiliated with various hospitallers, male and female, among them the lay society of Saint Anthony, approved by Urban II in 1095 for the staffing of a hospital at Saint-Didier de la Mothe. Of course there were also the heretical groups such as the Cathari (albigenses) the Waldenses and the Humiliati.

Saint Francis, no doubt aware of the excommunication, persecution and massacre of groups that challenged Church authority, stressed obedience and conformity to the Church and its teachings. He wrote: “Let all the brothers be Catholics, and live and speak in a Catholic manner. But if anyone should err from the Catholic faith and life in word or in deed, and will not amend, let him be altogether expelled from our fraternity.”

Then there is St. Francis as peacemaker. Robert F Kennedy, Jr. described Saint Francis as an “ecumenical saint” mostly in reference to the saint’s meeting with the sultan of Egypt. Western accounts emphasize St. Francis wanting to convert the sultan and bring peace to the Holy land. What is often overlooked is that the Sultan al-Malik al-Kāmil was known to be lenient towards Christians, having befriended a Christian hermit long before he met with St. Francis.

Even Benito Mussolini used St Francis, praising him as “the saintliest of Italians and the most Italian of Saints.”

So who is the real Saint Francis? I do understand the need to have a saint who reflects the highest good of humanity. But I feel we lose the essence of the man who took an unknown road, who struggled with his own temptations, who sought God in his life and was disheartened by the betrayal of his brothers.
He was simply a man seeking grace, wanting to live as Christ taught to the best of his understanding and to burn away the “sins” of his past.

Random Ramblings

The challenge of writing a Biographical Novel. My background is in Journalism. I studied it and worked as a freelance writer for national magazines. Back then the emphasis was on ACCURACY. Not sure if that applies nowadays.
And so, I have to deal with whether to be historically accurate or let creativity take the lead. I tried to do both, however, I also compressed time, wrote how a certain reported event might have happened and borrowed other events to transplant in a different setting with a different person.
The problem is knowing how easily fiction becomes fact in some people’s minds. (Think THE DA VINCI CODE).
It’s happened to Saint Francis ever since the first words were written about him.
Researching various sources has made me come to the conclusion that no one will really know who St. Francis really was.


From the very first biography, every film, novel and academic paper had an agenda. Legends and facts intertwined. Perhaps there is something about Saint Francis that reflects so many different aspects of spirituality and humanity. I also have an agenda. To make the saint embraceable. To discover not the real St. Francis but the saint within us all.


Why contemplate/study the lives of the saints – particularly a saint who lived centuries ago? How does the example of a Medieval Saint apply to our lives in this day and age?

more than just a writer

You are a scientist: examining life through telescope and microscope, observing both the great expanse and the most minuscule but essential detail.

You are a composer and musician: listening to the rhythm, pacing the beat, moving your characters dancing across the page.

You are a magician:  fashioning people and places from the lofty atmosphere of imagination.

You are a parent: protective of your characters and mindful of their actions.

You are an architect and builder: mortaring words and stacking paragraphs, mindful of delicate balance and pleasing form.

You are the Dreamweaver, the Educator, the Wanderer in unknown lands, the Obsessive always searching for the suitable word and flawless phrase.

You are the Faithful One who cherishes the written word in an era of images and sound.

Why the cross

As we watch and pray waiting for the Resurrection, let us contemplate the meaning of the crucifixion.

I never understood the teaching that “Jesus died for our sins.”

Rather, I see him taking on all our fears and showing us how to conquer them.  Yes, lose this life. Do not fear death. Let go of identifying with your physical form and you will discover a life greater than you imagined.

Jesus lived his teachings. He spoke the Word and he lives the Word.

He said, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)

The basic instinct to survive is strong within man and animal. All creatures fear death. Those who cling to this life on earth remain focused on this world, trapped by the restraints of flesh, blood and DNA. How many people limit their lives out of fear – afraid of persecution and death?

In a way, such people lose their real lives and become ghosts fighting to survive, though the battle always ends in defeat. After all, everything that has a beginning also has an end.

Death is only a transition, much the same as the child “dies” so an adult can come into being. Every stage of you journey on earth has been a series of deaths and resurrections. The physical form of a baby ends so a child can walk and the child then becomes an adult. And, when the adult dies, a new form emerges not of this earth.

Jesus died on the cross so Christ could emerge from the tomb.

a cross

the duality of a writer

Solitude is an essential tool for every writer. He or she must become a hermit in a self-created cave, The voice of the muse, the inner creator can only be heard where there is no distraction. Writing becomes a self-imposed exile.

And yet, the writer is also a missionary of sorts, always aware that just outside the cave stands The Reader waiting impatiently. When we write, we “speak” to the unseen Reader.

The duality often becomes a conflict. We want to be true to the inner voice but we also take into consideration the Reader. After all, if we write in a language only we can understand, what would be the point of expressing it at all? We’d just be talking to ourselves. Why put words to paper? Why post it? Why share it at all?

Because the writer feels she or he has a message, something worth sharing with the world.

The challenge is having the hermit and the missionary working in harmony with each other.

Too much isolation is like doing shadow puppets in a dark cave. Only you know what you’re doing and even then can’t be sure of it.

Conversely, too much concern for the Reader may distort your inner voice, diminish the message and weaken the power of your words.

That is the duality of the writer. I myself, can only write when I am alone and the chance of interruptions is minimal. At the same time, I am the critical Reader keeping check on my writing, making sure it is understandable, cohesive and, most of all, not boring.

I have some really good arguments with myself.

Basildon Park

Get to work


My mind likes to wander, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The trouble is when the mind acts like an errant child running off when there’s a task to be done. Interestingly, that happens the most when I need write. Seems it wants to do a hundred things first before sitting down and facing the keyboard.

And when I finally sit down, my mind refuses to cooperate and stubbornly goes blank. It’s not Writer’s Block nor is it lack of direction. It’s just that my mind doesn’t want to work, doesn’t want to agonize over the right word, doesn’t want to come up with a creative paragraph that basically says “He then went to the [wherever].” 

So I have to coax my brain into writing mode. What sometimes gets the words flowing is reading Chinese Buddhist Poetry.

Like this one by HanShan:

Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:

The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,

The wide creek, the mist-blurred grass.

The moss is slippery, though there’s been no rain

The pine sings, but there’s no wind.

Who can leap the world’s ties

And sit with me among the white clouds?

If that doesn’t work then I turn to The Chinese Art of Writing. I find the section on the various style of poetry to be inspiring.

At the present moment I have to write a battle scene. Having never been in a battle since I  was a kid growing up in the Bronx, never mind a battle during the Crusades, I haven’t a clue where to start. But then I remembered something I saw in a Gore Vidal interview. He stated that the best action writer he knows of is Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote the Tarzan series. Really?  So, I found some excerpts and yeah, Vidal was right. Even these many years later his action sequences draw you in. Check it out for yourself.  Tarzan of the Apes.

Of course, there are times my mind refuses to play along. I need new enticements to wake up the hamster to turn the wheel and spew out some really good words.

So, fellow writers, what works for you?