We’re following a Franciscan theme at school this year so I decided to show Zeffirelli’s classic film, Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Phew! I forgot what a flower child Francis was made out to be…all that soft focus running through poppy fields with butterflies and bumblebees and Donovan yodeling in the background. Yucch. Luckily I only have an hour of school time so I had to cut out all that stuff.
It was too much syrup for my liking. There were poppies, and there should have been puppies… and wide eyed waifs and maybe a few widdle kitty cats to top it off.
Then I got to thinking about Francis and little flowers and Therese of Lisieux–the little flower. You get a similar sentimentality in Story of A Soul. On first reading its all about a little French girl who made daisy chains for the Blessed Virgin and went to the beach with Daddy and saw a ‘T’ in the stars and thought the angels put it there. But John Paul the Great named Therese a doctor of the Church! There must be more to it than that.
If that’s so, maybe Zeffirelli actually got it right and I got it wrong. What if to really understand Francis and Therese we have to put on a happy grin and embrace this stuff? What if there’s a sign over heaven’s door saying, “Serious, Grim Faced Aesthetes not allowed”? What if our love of the beautiful and good actually keeps us from loving the Best? Maybe we have to stop turning up our nose and start turning down our gaze. Maybe to appreciate the humble we also have to appreciate humble and sentimental religion.
They say good literature combines content with form. Therese of Lisieux’s little book does just that. It’s about spiritual childhood and hey, guess what? It is written by a child in child-like language. Same with Zeffirelli’s foolish flower child portrayal of Francis. It shows us Francis the Fool. Chesterton’s jongleur de Dieu–the clown of God.
After all, if we’re going to get into the kingdom of heaven we have to become as little children, and what little child doesn’t like puppies and kittens and flowers— and circus clowns for that matter? Maybe to really understand Francis and Therese, and catch a bit of their carefree humility, we have to lay all our stuffy good taste at the door and start enjoying all that Cahtolic kitsch.
In fact, what if we get to heaven and find that this is the stuff that prevails? What if it isn’t all Mozart and Michelangelo and Monteverdi, but happy clappy choruses, black velvet paintings of Mary and happy, plump saints in gaudy polyester outfits? If heaven is for the humble, perhaps that is the sort of heaven we tasteful, educated folks will be ushered into.
So up with flower power. Bring on the posters of puppies with Bible texts, the pictures of Jesus with googly eyes, and all the brightly colored holy cards. Dish up the kitsch. Swallow your pride. Jump on the happy bandwagon with Therese and Francis. Your salvation may depend on it.