Chasing Francis by Ian Cron (@iancron).
It’s a historical novel, where fiction is mixed in with historical facts and people, much like Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” is a 19th-century example of the romantic-historical novel. This book follows a pastor on a pilgrimage, rediscovering and reinventing who he is, based on his encounter with the living memory of St. Francis of Assisi. My understanding of Saint Francis before reading Ian’s book was that he was the patron Saint of animals. This story opened my eye’s not only to the life of an amazing servant of the Lord, but gave me a new perspective on the Catholic church.
This book caused much internal reflection in my own life, as I was engulfed into the story line of Chase the main character. Chase is a church planter who’s church plant became a mega-church. However the God he thought he knew, the one he learned about in seminary was not the one he was preaching about. He was losing his faith. His emotional and spiritual burnout calumniates in an impromptu moment during a Sunday morning sermon, an outburst from the podium earns him a forced sabbatical.
Chase finds himself in Rome, with his cousin Kenny, a Franciscan monk. Kenny wants to lead him on a spiritual pilgrimage, following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi to find how Jesus lived. Kenny expalains a pilgramgae as:
“Think of it this way,” he continued, “a pilgrimage is a way of praying with your feet. You go on a pilgrimage because you know there’s something missing inside your soul, and the only way you can find it is to go to sacred places, places where God made himself known to others. In sacred places, something gets done to you that you’ve been unable to do for yourself.”
Through out his time in Italy, Chase begins to really find out what he believes deep down. He wrestles with the fact that his faith is more knowledge than actual faith. As he spends his time walking in the footsteps of St. Francis and learning from the history oozing out of Rome.
Overall I found this book very intriguing and helpful in my own life as I walk my faith journey. St. Francis believed that the gospel message should be ever present in our lives. It questions some of the status quo of the modern church.
“Francis didn’t criticize the institutional church, nor did he settle for doing church the way it had always been done. He rose above those two alternatives and decided that the best way to overhaul something was to keep your mouth shut and simply do it better. It’s like Gandhi said: “Seek to be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Francis was so much more than a friend of animals as I had learned growing up. He was a friend of God, he was a student of God, and a sold out follower of Jesus Christ.
“Francis’s strategy of ministry-simply read the gospel texts and live the life you find on its pages. What a concept. I wondered what Francis would say if he were the main speaker at a church-growth conference. Would anyone take him seriously?”
Live the gospel out loud. That sums up St. Francis’ calling.
The book is a great story, that presents a compelling picture of a saint of the church who has an age old message for the church of today. Francis dared to believe that Jesus meant what He said.
Here are some quotes that really stood out to me:
“Francis had no new theory to offer, but an old practice-the practice of Jesus Christ.”
“The Bible is the story of how God gets back what was always his in the first place. People are looking for a story that can explain the way the world is.”
“Francis, your genius was that you read stuff in the Bible (like the Sermon on the Mount) and you didn’t spiritualize or theologize it. You heard Jesus say, “Happy are the peacemakers,” so you got up every day and embarked on a new peace mission. My usual approach is to read the Bible, try to understand what it’s saying, and then apply it. Your formula was the reverse. You applied the Bible and then came to a fresh understanding of what it actually meant. What a concept.”
“If someone insists on labeling me in the future, I’d like to be known as a `come-and-see’ Christian. If someone asks me what kind of church I belong to, I want to say, `a come-and-see church.’ Come and see how we love the poor, come and see how we give dignity back to those who’ve lost it or given it away, come and see how we encounter God through every spiritual practice at our disposal, come and see how we love one another in community, come and see how we stand for peace and justice, come and see how we’ve been freed from consumerism and have become radically generous, come and see our passion for beauty, come and see how we defend the earth, come and see how we preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words. Come and see-and perhaps after a while you’ll decide to join us in the story we’re living in.”
I highly recommend this book. It takes the reader on their own spiritual pilgrimage without leaving the comfort of the chair their reading in.