I adore St. Francis. And I know I’m not alone, he’s one of the most popular saints in the Church. Everyone loves the man who preached to birds, converted the wicked wolf of Gubbio, and started the Christmas Creche tradition. He’s just so overwhelmingly loveable.
This year, I’ve been turning to Francis a lot, and not just for his cozy little miracles. The state of the Church is painful. The state of the world around me is painful. I’m consistently concerned about what I see happening in the lives of people I love. And Francis is the ideal friend during these turbulent times. He’s not just a friend of birds and beasts, he’s called‘the second Christ.’
Baby Francis even refused to be born until his mother went down to the stable. He had to be born in poverty like Christ. Francis is Catholicism at it’s fullest, and of course, he was entrusted with the rebuilding of the Church.
He’s extreme – in fact, he makes most modern-day extremists look pretty blasé.
When he was young and wild, he was called the ‘King of Revels’ by his friends, who could barely keep up with Francis’s enthusiasm for living. When he embraced poverty, his brothers couldn’t keep up with his prayer and penances either. But everything he did was so full of love that they followed him anyway.
Advent Fasting and Prayer
Currently, we’re in the midst of Francis’s Nativity Fast. In his Rule, St. Francis orders his monks to begin fasting after the Feast of All Souls. Instead of just fasting during the 4 weeks (give or take) or Advent, he goes from right after All Soul’s Until Christmas Day* because he’s in love with Christmas.
Remember his adorable, life-sized creche? Francis had a huge devotion to the Infant Christ, and he went all out to celebrate. One of the best ways to really celebrate Christmas is to fling yourself into preparation fasting.
In the middle ages, everyone fasted during Advent. It was just understood. In the Eastern Church, fasting is still a huge part of preparing for Christmas. The Byzantine Nativity Fast starts on the 15th of November.
But Francis always goes wholeheartedly into things. So he starts fasting earlier. This year, we jumped in with him. I’ve committed to daily rosaries, and a simple rhythm of fasting during this season. It’s pretty low key, and still really helpful at refocusing my heart and mind for Christmas.
At this point, I feel like I’ll be embracing some sort of fasting or penance for a long while. This world needs something, even if it’s just the lazy little efforts I’m throwing forth.
But we’ll be feasting enthusiastically at Christmas.
Then, when Lent arrives, we’ll be ready to fast enthusiastically as well. St. Francis went out into the wilderness with only two loaves of bread. He wanted to spend the Lenten season (ok, really his whole life) in imitation of Christ. The story goes, that Francis ate one loaf of bread that Lent, just to keep himself humble. The other he kept around as a constant source of temptation.
I will not be fasting like that this Lent, but, I do recommend embracing a Byzantine form of fasting that is much more like what medieval Christians practiced. We follow a lovely little schedule: Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays – no oil, wine, fish; Tuesdays/Thursdays – no fish; Saturdays & Sundays are feasting days so fish and wine are ok! BUT, we abstain from meat, cheese, eggs, and sugar everyday – even Sunday. We also try to practice some form of fasting each weekday of Lent, even if it’s just skipping breakfast. I like to think of St. Francis patting us condescendingly on the head and saying “it’s a good start, little laziness.”
St. Michael’s Lent
I’ve already written about this delightful season a few places, so I’ll just briefly mention that it’s an absolutely amazing way to say ‘goodbye’ to summer and welcome in the darkening days of autumn.
I’ve never enjoyed Michaelmas more. One Assumption Day we got our herbs blessed, feasted, and soaked up the sunlight. Then, we stepped into Francis’s self-designed fast. And, of course, right near the end of St. Michael’s Lent we get to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata (and since we had locally visiting Franciscans, it was a big deal!). I loved celebrating this feast at the tail end of the Fast. It was a perfect end to the season.
Those are my current Franciscan fasts. I’m always hoping to find others, because Francis is just such a cozy saint to fast with. He understands failure and he loves enthusiasm.
There’s a story in the Little Flowers of St. Francis (I think), in which a young brother is trying to imitate the extreme Francis. It didn’t work out well, and he may have passed out. But Francis decided to help him. He made sure the overwhelmed little brother could break fast and recover a bit without being shamed in front of everyone. So he set out food and they had a little family feast. The little brother saved face and got some nutrients. Francis is always finding ways to help, guide, and encourage – which is why his fasts are so fun to do as a family.
What do you think? There’s still plenty of time to jump into Franciscan Advent, or just to make regular Advent extra-fast-y**.
Want to try it?
*Yes, we are dispensing from the fast for Thanksgiving. Don’t worry. Plenty of food and themed cocktails are in our plans for that day!
**Don’t forget the St. Nicholas Fast!!! So important.