THE POPE AND THE BEGGAR
It is one of the wonders of life that we meet souls compatible with our own in places and circumstances unexpected and surprising. This fact never so thoroughly overwhelmed Francis as in his audience with Pope Innocent III. This magnificent man had Francis’ own suspicions and mistrust of anything that smacked of fanaticism, and in Francis’ first meeting with the Pope, he had sensed the Pope’s mind working intensely behind the fixed and penetrating gaze. His eyes were like shafts of light illuminating the dark corners of Francis’ soul. And when the audience was over, Francis had no idea what the Pope really felt. Everything was in abeyance.
Now Innocent never put much stock in nightmares, but there was about this dream the power and persuasion of a vision, and he resummoned Francis and the brothers the following day. It was at this audience that Francis saw in Pope Innocent a heart like his own. The Pope’s whole personality radiated the intensity and seriousness of a child. And unlike most other people to whom Francis had stretched out his hands in supplication, this man looked straight into his eyes. Francis would never forget their complete candor and innocence. How fitting the name Innocent!
As Francis slowly and deliberately explained the Dream, the Pope’s eyes grew moist, and he loved Francis with his eyes. At that moment Francis knew that the Dream was from God and that this soft man with the hard exterior would stand by the Dream and write it down in the Book of the Visions of the Church of God.
Innocent in fact did more. He rose from his throne and embraced Francis, and Francis felt through the rich papal garments the beating of a poor and ragged heart like his own, who longed to change places with any one of these beggars and fools of Christ. Francis wept aloud, not only for joy that the Dream was real, but because the touch of this man was the softness he had always longed for from his own father. The Pope had become more than the tangible representative of Christ. He was the father he had lost, given back a hundredfold. In their embrace Francis felt that he in turn was for Innocent the son he had given up for Christ, returned again a hundredfold.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, looked on in astonishment at the tender scene being enacted shamelessly in full view of the whole Papal Court. Some of them grumbled at the melodrama of it all, but others, their eyes moist as well, understood.
Then Pope Innocent simply and humbly proclaimed for all to hear, “Go with God, little brothers, and announce salvation for all, as the Lord reveals it to you! And when the Almighty has multiplied your number, then come back to me and I will charge you with a greater inheritance.” A greater inheritance! What he had felt in the Pope’s embrace was true: Francis had been restored to his father’s house, and a new and spiritual inheritance was his. From that day on the bond between Francis and Innocent was ever that of son and father, and Francis always included Pope Innocent among the Lesser Brothers of Jesus.
- Murray Bodo OFM, Francis: The Journey and the Dream