St Francis

As the 'inconvenient elder'

St Francis:  flickr photo by dawnzy58
St Francis: flickr photo by dawnzy58

When he ceded control of the group, Francis [Saint Francis of Assisi, AD 1181–1226] hoped that he could still lead the men by example, but his influence quickly waned. This enraged him. “Who are these who have ripped my order and my brothers out of my hands?” he shouted. Once, when he saw a new building that he thought the community had erected for itself, in disregard of the rule of poverty, he climbed up to the roof and began prying off the tiles and throwing them to the ground. Breaking with his earlier, gentle practice, he cursed people who opposed his ideas.

Francis was a good example of what, in the annals of history, might be called the “inconvenient elder”: the person who starts the revolution and then, once it succeeds, becomes an inconvenience, even an embarrassment, to the next generation. (Think of Gandhi.) They honor him —  they have to — but they wish he would go away, so that they could “work within the system” and relax a little. [– From “Rich Man, Poor Man: the radical vision of St Francis” by Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, January 14, 2013. Page 75. Image: flickr photo by dawnzy58]