Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff has written a new preface for this 25th anniversary edition of Francis of Assisi in which he calls this saint "an archetype of the human ideal: open to God, universal brother, and caretaker of nature and Mother Earth. He belongs not only to Christianity but to all humankind." In five sections, the author delves into the richness of Saint Francis of Assisi's life and finds there a model of gentleness and care, his preferential option for the poor, his liberation through goodness and service of others, his creation of a popular and poor church, and his integration of the negative.
One of the many amazing qualities of this monk was his closeness to nature and even to inanimate objects. Boff notes how the man walked with reverence over rocks in consideration of the One Who Himself is called Rock; how he picked up worms so they would not be stepped upon; and how he provided bees with honey and wine in the winter so they would not succumb to hunger and cold. Boff observes:
"The Franciscan world is full of magic, of reverence, of respect. It is not a dead and inanimate universe; things are not tossed here, within the reach of possessive appetites of hunger; nor are they placed one beside another. They are alive and have their own personality; they have blood ties with humanity; they live in the same Father's house as humanity. And because they are brothers and sisters, they cannot be violated, but rather must be respected. It is from this that Saint Francis, surprisingly, but consistent with his nature, prohibits the brothers from cutting any tree at the roots, that they might bud again. He commanded the gardeners to leave a plot of uncultivated land so that all types of grasses might grow (including weeds), because 'they too proclaim the beauty of the Father in all things.' "
In contrast to the modern aversion for the poor, which manifests in so many ways, Saint Francis identified with the poor and participated in their struggle for survival, always working for their liberation. He was also cognizant of their sensitivity to being scorned and rejected by other classes. Here is a passage in which Boff opens our eyes to the value of both giving and receiving:
"One can appreciate the truth of Archbishop Helder Camera, the great realizer of Saint Francis in our midst: 'No one is so poor that they cannot give, nor so rich that they cannot receive.' In the giving and the receiving one is nourished and builds human life as human, beyond class differences. In the giving and receiving, the poor feel that their own poverty is humanized. In this context, courtesy, 'sister of charity and one of God's qualities,' availability, humble service, and the profound gentleness and compassion of Francis with the most needy all require relevance. They are forms of communication that humanize and liberate."
Boff hits high stride in his chapter on Francis's view of death. There have been many books on this saint but this one works on so many different levels and opens our eyes to the multiple wonders of his life and ministry.