In The Power and the Glory there is a remarkable scene where this priest, who is the last fugitive in a time of clerical purging, ends up in prison. He enters a dark prison cell full of numbers of people and untold sounds and smells. He couldn't see anything. But he got over his fear, and even his disgust, and even hearkened in himself a love for each fellow prisoner. He thought:
"When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity . . . that was a quality God’s image carried with it . . . when you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination "
Whereas this priest was a fictional character, Francis was the real deal. It has been said of him that "he listens to those to whom God himself will not listen." This is undoubtedly exaggerated legend, and slightly blasphemous perhaps, but it expressed how much he stood out for his love of not only each person, but each sparrow.
Chesterton said that "when he came across the mysterious outcast, traitor or coward or whatever else he was called, he simply treated him exactly like all the rest, neither with coldness nor compassion, but with the same unaffected gaiety and good fellowship. . . . I have said that St. Francis deliberately did not see the wood for the trees. It is even more true that he deliberately did not see the mob for the men. . . . He only saw the image of God multiplied but never monotonous"
There is a tale of St. Francis which depicts the beginning of his new life of ministry among the "lowly" of creation. He has just returned from the battlefield, where some had been outed as cowards, Francis not being one of them. It is not until he is back home on his own road that he meets his largest fear in the face, stops in his tracks, and must figure out what to do. GKC says:
"Francis Bernardone saw his fear coming up the road towards him; the fear that comes from within and not without; though it stood white and horrible in the sunlight. For once in the long rush of his life his soul must have stood still. Then he sprang from his horse, knowing nothing between stillness and swiftness, and rushed on the leper and threw his arms around him. It was the beginning of a long ministry among many lepers."
It seems like everywhere I look these days it is all about superheroes and saving the world; from Al Gore to Heroes to the Fantastic Four. That's all fine and spectacular, but I think we should remember who the real heroes are. They are those who love, and love like Christ.
It is that Christ-ian love that has been all but forgotten in this so-called Christian society because, as Chesterton says in Assisi, many have "lost the clue to all that lovers have meant by love; and will not understand that it was because the thing was not demanded that it was done.