Do you remember the sappy film about St Francis called Brother Sun, Sister Moon?
Its all about St Francis. The movie was made in the late 60’s and directed by the native of Florence, Franco Zefferelli. Zeffirelli himself is a homosexual, and has been accused several times of being a predator, and the film oozes a kind of sumptuous, Botticelli-esque eroticism.
Here’s the deal about the movie: it portrays St Francis as the proto-flower child of the 1960s. 1968 was the year that marks the sexual revolution, and Brother Sun Sister Moon was a deliberate propaganda piece for the hippie movement.
While St Francis is not portrayed as a homosexual he is certainly portrayed as a sissy. He is forever gazing beautifully at the flowers and birds, and running through fields of wild flowers seen through a soft focus lens with that drippy song by Donovan being crooned in the background. The scene where he strips naked has a creepy homoerotic mood to it, and the whole thing drips with 1960s summer of love sentimentality. Drugs were a big deal and I guess its no mistake that the flowers in the field are poppies.
Of course I don’t really blame one movie for all the rot we’re experiencing now, and the movie has some of good stuff in it, but Brother Sun, Sister Moon illustrates a feminization of Catholicism that took place at the same time. Sissy St Francis in Zeffirelli’s movie was repeated by sissy Jesus in his Jesus of Nazareth TV series a few years later. Both films helped to cement a vision of the Christian faith that was already gaining popularity:
Not militant Christianity, but milquetoast Christianity.
“Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild” had, of course, been around since the romanticism of the Victorian age. So you find 19th century stained glass windows of Jesus with perfectly combed long hair, lovely robes and a simpering expression with a dear little lambkin on his shoulder. This is the Jesus blessing the little children–always with a weird look on his face like he’s either got wind or he’s looking at you with a “come hither” expression. I hate that junk.
Brother Sun Sister Moon captured gentle Jesus meek and mild the pacifist hippie just right– only it was St Francis. Was the Francis-Jesus link intentional? Of course. Watch the trailer and you’ll see one scene where Francis is sick and a cloth is removed from his face and the cloth looks like the holy veil of Veronica or the face on the Shroud of Turin.
Here’s what else was happening at the same time the movie was made: it was Second Vatican Council and revolution was in the air. The Catholic faith was shifting from being a supernaturally revealed religion which communicated saving grace to lost sinners to something else. Instead of salvation of souls the emphasis shifted to serving sandwiches. Suddenly the faith was all about feeling sorry for people and helping the victims as best we could.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of the corporal works of mercy. Its beautiful that St Francis kissed the leper and yes, no excuses–we need to roll up our sleeves and get busy with that, but the corporal works of mercy are not our only priority and they’re not even our first priority. The first priority is the proclamation of the gospel of God’s saving work through the death and resurrection of Christ the Lord.
But embarrassed by sin (it might make people feel bad if we talk about sin) and feeling silly about the supernatural claims of the faith, Catholics quietly put all that aside and chose a religion that was nicer, seemingly more accessible and sweeter–it was the religion of sweet sentimentality and helping poor people.
When helping the poor becomes the first priority it is very easy for the faith to become sentimentalized. Brother Sun Sister Moon pictured that whole approach. St Francis the Jesus figure was all about being poor and serving the poor, but in the movie it wasn’t real poverty it was romanticized. It was pretty poverty.
It was fake Franciscanism, and the same fake, sentimental Catholicism is everywhere now.
Let’s face it. This kind of sentimental, unrealistic, romanticized soft focus religion appeals to ditzy women and effeminate men. No wonder so many of the post-1968 priests were sentimental and spineless.
Don’t you still hear this today in a lot of American Catholicism? There is a kind of mambsy pambsy weakness to the preaching and teaching. I heard an Archbishop preach earlier this week and in the midst of this crisis he gave a lily livered homily about being nice to everyone–especially little children and “some things have happened this summer that have made us feel sad.”
It was pathetic.
How many times have you heard the priest introduce the confession at the beginning of Mass by saying, “Now I know all of us may have done things this week that we’re not really proud of, and we all make mistakes, so let’s think about these failures and ask God to help us do better…”
You get my drift.
I reckon St Francis was nothing like that sissy Zeffirelli movie. He was a tough little brother and took no nonsense and his poverty, like Our Lord’s, was not romanticized. It was real.
Does this have anything to do with the sex abuse scandals? Sure. Look at the statistics. The problem of sex abuse had always been around, but there was a huge surge in the 1970s and 80s. Why was that? Because along with the sentimentalized version of sissy Jesus Catholicism went a moral laxity. If feelings were everything, then it was okay to go with your feelings, and if your feelings were for teenaged boys, then that temptation was yielded to. Sentimental romanticism is always hand in hand with decadence.
Was there any evidence of a link? Yep. I knew a Franciscan friar in England who did a lot of youth work. He used to mince around wearing his Franciscan habit charming people and pretending to be holy. He played a guitar and sang cool songs about Jesus and did the whole hippie St Francis thing. He probably even sang that Brother Sun Sister Moon son.
Everybody thought he was quite wonderful. We found out later that one of his tricks was to pray with teen aged boys then ask them to strip naked before God–like St Francis.
Then he’d anoint their private parts with holy oil.
You don’t have to blame Brother Sun Sister Moon.
But I do.