Friday, October 3, 2014

The Joyful Beggar by Louis de Wohl

The Joyful BeggarThe Joyful Beggar by Louis de Wohl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What is it with Louis de Wohl's books? They're like peanuts or popcorn. You just keep tossing back handfuls because they're so good and go down so tastily.

I received The Joyful Beggar on a Saturday at noon in the mail. Sunday at noon I was 75% done. It really grabbed me, obviously. I should've expected that since I've had that reaction to de Wohl's books before. They are consistently entertaining, historical fiction of saints and the times in which they lived.

I'm aware of the details of St. Francis's life but have never felt much connection with this saint. I wondered if sinking deeper into his life could help my life as a Christian. That's another of Louis de Wohl's talents, by the way. Whether or not you feel a personal affinity for someone, he brings to light aspects of their lives that illuminate your own.
Sharp as a blade, the Pope's mind put it all together. This beggar was a troubadour, a Minnesanger, as they called them in Germany, a "singer of love," but for once here was one who was singing in praise of the Love of God.

"I am the poor woman in the desert," Francis explained merrily. "And I trust my Lord, the King. he will look after my sons."

A jester and a dancer; a beggar and a troubadour; a preacher, a monk, a teller of parables, and perhaps a saint: there was no end to the man. If Satan could distort the minds of many to preach against the Church in the name of purity, here was one who could preach for the Church in the same name; here was, perhaps, the antidote against the poison in the veins of Europe, the man to give fresh life to a world grown cold. And therefore this man could be, nay, was the one who held up the falling walls of the Church. And that was all Innocent wanted to know.
What I felt after reading this book was Francis's joy in serving, his release from fear, his complete trust in God. I especially appreciated the way Francis connected Brother Sun and Sister Moon and all the other elements of his famous Canticle of the Sun with Jesus. It was that connection which made nature holy, the connection with our Lord in his Incarnation. Beautiful.

As always, de Wohl shows us the saint's story through other imagined characters who have their own journeys to God. This is very useful for explaining the history and customs of the times. Quite often there is a contrast which layers meaning and context for the overall power of that particular saint. In this book there were both Clare of Assisi on her own journey to holiness and Roger of Vandria, continually striving to simply regain his ancestral lands. As they grow so do we.
"In that case, why not make a test?" Francis suggested. "Let a great fire be lighted before your tent, and these learned priests of yours and I will enter it. Then God may show which is the true faith."

Roger gasped. If that was supposed to be a bluff, it was a very dangerous one. There were fanatics enough among Moslem priests, and at least some of them might accept the challenge.

The sultan glanced at his imams and mullahs. they looked a little vague, as if they had not understood the little dervish's words, and one of them, standing at the back, began to move with great dignity toward the exit of the tent.

"I don't think my priests are very likely to consent to this test of yours, little dervish," Al Kamil said, smiling.

He's got out of it, Roger thought, half relieved, half angry.

"Then I will enter the fire alone," Francis said quietly, "If you promise for yourself and for your people that you will worship Christ if I come out of the fire unhurt." After a little pause he added, "If I should be burned to death, it will be due only to my sins. But if God protects me, it is a clear sign of his holy will, and you must all accept Christ.

Now he has killed himself, Roger thought. This is too good a spectacle for the sultan to miss. The man is mad. He is a fanatic. He is magnificent. By all the angels and devils, he is the only crusader in the army. What a pity he is done for. Those priests will take him at his word, even if the sultan doesn't.
Did I wind up best friends with Francis of Assisi? No. But we can't be best friends with everyone. I did, however, wind up as more than a casual acquaintance with my own life enriched thanks to the story of the joyful beggar.

This is a review book from Ignatius Press. This opinion is my own, uninfluenced by anything as paltry as a free book. As anyone is well aware who reads this blog regularly.

For a good overview of the novels, take a look at Rose Trabbic's piece Discovering the Novels of Louis de Wohl. Also well worth reading is Will Duquette's review of The Citadel of God where he gives a concise commentary on de Wohl as an author, with which I completely agree.

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