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Saint Louis – one of our patron saints? September 11, 2013

Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan , add a comment

We tertiaries have inherited from the Secular Franciscans the notion that Saint Louis is a patron saint of the Third Order. I was excited to learn that the great French scholar of Francis and Clare, Jacques LeGoff had undertaken a 10-year study of Saint Louis and published it. I managed to obtain a copy of the 1,000-page tome for $15 (it’s usually about $80) anxious to read what Saint Louis could teach me about living as a Franciscan.

Saint Louis is worth the effort. The book is beautifully written and smoothly translated by Gareth Evan Gollrad. It has three parts: the first outlines the life of Saint Louis based on the best evidence available; the second goes more deeply into aspects of the evidence to explore how much we can really know about a personality from 800 years ago (quite a lot, it turns out), and Part III contains family trees, maps, charts, notes an bibliographies.

I have written a more detailed review at http://wp.me/p1E0m7-3n

King Louis IX, like his brother-in-law Henry III in England, surrounded himself with Franciscans and Dominicans. The new Orders were in royal flavour. And Louis’ life was strongly influenced by the mendicants and the Carthusians. He made justice and peace the main values of his kingdom. When he went on Crusade, like Saint Francis, he tried to convert the Muslim leaders. He cultivated humility and poverty. He toned down his dress and personal style.

As I read, I was reminded often of Queen Elizabeth II and her commitment to serve the people of her kingdoms and the Commonwealth as a Christian vocation. Likewise, King Louis, crowned as a “most Christian king” aimed to live that out in every aspect of his life.

Saint Louis, as it turns out, was not a member of the Third Order. Jacques LeGoff, however, draws a sympathetic picture of a charismatic man conscientiously living out his vocation. Saint Louis is not a plaster saint, nor is he some kind of tribal Franciscan hero: he is a human being and a Christian from whom we can learn.

Franciscans helping Jews in the England of Henry III July 21, 2013

Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan, News, Reflection , add a comment

The Martyrdom of Little St Hugh

Little St Hugh – Lincoln Cathedral

Franciscans arrived in England five years before the death of St Francis in Italy. By 1224, there were Franciscans in Oxford and Cambridge, helping to establish those two places of theological learning. King Henry III, known by some as Henry the Pious, was impressed by the Franciscans and their friendly rivals, the Dominicans. In 1226, the King gave to the Franciscans in Cambridge half of a stone house which had belonged to Benjamin the Jew.

The Jews were tolerated in England, mainly as money-lenders to the aristocracy. Henry borrowed staggering sums, and was unable to repay them. He then devised heavy taxes on Jews as a way of getting out of debt. He had, for example, passed a law aimed at the wealthy Jews that gave him the right to huge taxes or fines from any man convicted of capital crimes.

The Franciscans were missionaries: they had a strong desire to convert the Jews, so they took a special interest in the Jewish community. Friars took the trouble to learn about their customs and literature, and follow the politics of the place of Jews in the English community. Franciscan Friar Roger Bacon, the famous intellectual, was given special responsibility for the converts from Judaism.

On 27th August 1225, the body of nine-year-old Hugh was found at the bottom of a well in Lincoln. A friar, sadly, was the first to accuse the Jews of kidnapping little Hugh and ritually executing him, using his blood to make matzos for Passover. Emotions flared all over England and Henry saw a chance. He thought he would ride public opinion and have ninety Jews convicted for the double crime of kidnap and murder. He arrested them, had them tortured and locked up in the Tower of London.

18 of the Jews hanged themselves rather than risk the anger of a Christian court-room.

Many Franciscans refused to be caught up in the angry outcry against the Jews. Risking their friendship with the volatile King, they pleaded in court for the release of the remaining Jews.

The crimes alleged, the Franciscans said, could not possibly have been committed by Jews. Eating blood in any form is comprehensively prohibited for Jews, and Passover takes place, not in August, but in March/April.

The pleas of the Franciscan friars did not succeed in gaining the Jews’ release. However, they were not hanged but kept imprisoned for many months while the Jewish community all over England gathered together a massive ransom payment for their freedom.

The Feast of the martyr Little St Hugh is July 27, a day on which we Franciscans can both repent the history of maltreatment and misunderstanding of Jews and recognise three Franciscan traits: firstly, the desire to understand people and respect every human being as made in God’s image. Secondly, as our Principles put it, the desire of Franciscans to ‘make our Lord known and loved everywhere’, and thirdly, even when faced with spectacular failure, the willingness to stand up for justice, particularly to take up the cause of those falsely accused.

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If you’re interested in Little St Hugh and want to know more, read Robin R. Mundil, The King’s Jews: Money, Massacre and Exodus in Medieval England, London: Continuum Books, 2010, or, for Franciscan beginnings in England, relevant chapters in Maurice Carmody OFM, The Franciscan Story, London: Athena Press 2008.

The Provincial Minister Reports – on French Knitting! May 29, 2011

Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan, News, Provincial Chapter , 7comments

ENQUIRIES

When I was a child, I remember fads for French knitting, sometimes started in the Witham household and sometimes from Tambellup School. If you don’t know this craft, you take a wooden cotton reel, hammer four thumb tacks around the central hole, then loop woollen thread around the tacks and feed the leading threads through the long hole. If you have threaded correctly, a woven woollen rope appears at the bottom hole and grows and grows. This rope is then used to make pot holders and dressing gown girdles, and pot holders and … well; actually the dressing gown girdles are not much good, because they stretch out of shape quickly.

But French knitting is the sort of craft that keeps you occupied for hours. It whiled away the long 90 minute school bus ride. You could pick it up after tea and keep going for hours. I was always fascinated with the process, watching these four thin threads go in the top and re-appear as a beautiful woven lanyard.

Let me liken this process of French knitting to the way in which we reach out for new members. At the top are enquirers, each of them a single life, usually seeking something more in the Christian journey. At the bottom are the newly-professed, beautiful woven as new Franciscans and ready to be put to work in an appropriate ministry.

For the moment we don’t see the important work that happens between the top and the bottom, but I will come back to that. At the time of your Reports, most Regions in Australia report regularly that they have four or five enquirers. Let’s take the upper figure, because you may not be reporting the enquirers earlier in the year. There are seven Regions, so 35 Enquirers a year. I have been fielding about one Internet enquirer a month, so each year nearly 50 enquirers come to us.

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