What’s in a Name: Francis

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Like so many others, I was staggered when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose Francis for his Papal name.  It’s hard to describe, but when I heard the news, a breeze blew through my soul leaving me in a momentary state of  awe-filled silence, accompanied by a strange sensation of serene happiness.

I’m not the only one.   Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image Magazine, wrote, “Francis. The perfect name. Simplicity. Poverty. Reform. I am stunned and profoundly happy.”

And then, from across the ocean, English poet Malcolm Guite rhapsodised:

You woke to Christ and Christ awoke in you
And set to work through all your love and skill
To make our ruin good, to bless and heal
To wake the Christ in us and make us whole

(excerpt from ‘Francis, Rebuild My Church’; a sonnet for the Saint and for the new Pope )

Of course, this enthusiasm is primarily for Francis, as Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s story is yet to be written. But cause for hope may be taken from today’s inaugural homily when the Pontiff presented a clear message of his vision for the church: to work to protect God’s creation and the world’s poor.

However, one wonders at the  wisdom of his name choice, which, more than anything else, will now be the metric against which his life will be measured and remembered. But I think he knows this, for already, every time he breaks into the crowds to touch and  be touched, he repeatedly begs, “Pray for me.”

Evidently, Jorge knows well what Francis means.

Even as this name choice could be considered spectacularly courageous, it could equally be considered  foolish. But that is part of the charm. In an elegant biography of  Francis of Assisi, GK Chesterton describes the man as a “festive figure” whose life was one “riot of rash vows” which turned out right.  I think a Papacy marked by a riot of rash vows that turn out right is exactly what we need right now.  So I will not be joining the ranks of the cynical chic, but have decided to take him at his word and to do what he asks: I will pray for him.


Not surprisingly,  these events sent me to my bookshelf to pull out the several books I’ve read on the life of Francis.  Soon I found myself happily on my couch, dog in lap, re-reading Chesterton’s grand biography of the saint. An early sentence caught me offguard and propelled me back into my childhood:

“…when, long ago in those days of boyhood my fancy first caught fire with the Glory of St. Francis of Assisi.”

I was in grade two or three when, having just returned home from school, Mom and Dad whisked my sisters and I into the car, surprising us with the news that we would be making the 60 mile trek to Calgary to go and see a movie.  It’s not that there wasn’t an available theatre in our little town of Drumheller, Alberta, but in those days movie-going was frowned upon by the Faithful.  And so to avoid scandal, the few movies I saw as a boy were always preceded by a clandestine  journey.

You might imagine how my initial excitement was dashed to learn that the movie we were about to see was called Brother Sun, Sister Moon, which told the story a 13th century saint named Francis.  I would have much preferred something involving a car chase, heroic battle scene, or, more secretly, a romance  involving a bosomy  beauty. But alas, it was already  risqué  enough that we Baptists would be engaging a dubious Catholic legend.

That being said, my disappointment was soon disappointed.  The cinematography,  story and music (by Donovan, no less) overwhelmed me and became one of my earliest remembered spiritual experiences where I knew I was encountering something utterly beyond. And from that day on, when some kindly man or woman would ask me what I hoped to be when I grew up, I might have answered boyishly: policeman, fireman etc., because what I was too shy to say (and what would have been more truthful to say) was that I wanted to be… a saint.

As kids we learned to sing a prayer attributed to Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen – So be it.

I realize now how deeply those words have seeped into my being and shaped my understanding. What a gift.

Years later, after a concert, a friend was waiting backstage to shove a book into my hands before she ran to catch a ride home: Love Poems from God.  It was a book of mystical poetry edited by Daniel Ladinski, which included several obscure poems attributed to Francis. One, in particular, took my breath away. A song soon followed which I now post to commemorate this day: March 19/2013 – The Inauguration of Pope Francis.

May he (and we) be fertile ground for the seed of Christ, and a new flowering of love and grace.




Music by Steve Bell. Lyric adapted by Steve Bell from Daniel Ladinski’s translation of St. Francis’ poem “Our Need for Thee.”

Darkness is an unlit wick
A single spark would vanquish it
Truly I could burst to flame
Every time you call my name
Do I do for you the same?

God is like a honey bee
Penetrates the soul of me
Dearly draws the sweetness in
Nectar of the meek, love is
He in me and I in him

In our ever present need of thee
Grant we fathom peace
Fashion instruments of souls set free
For don’t the caged ones weep

Sometimes sober, sometimes bliss
Every union knows of this
But I have stood here in his rain
And bear the marks of fertile plains
Swelling streams and swollen grain

So will I console the fall
Of cheerless creatures great and small
What of sadness can endure
When love divine makes insecure
The crowing claims of shame’s allure

In our ever present need of thee…


Ever Present Need can be found on Steve Bell’s Sons and Daughters CD. To preview and/or  purchase click HERE… 







11 thoughts on “What’s in a Name: Francis

  1. Dear Steve…thank you so much for your post. I was bombarded today by some of that “cyncial chic” (So much of it uneducated in the daily life of a practicing Catholic) and was greatly comforted by your wisdom in recognizing that Pope Francis, by asking for our prayers, shows the true humility required in any leader today, let alone the Catholic Church. I too was taken with my family to watch Brother Son and Sister Moon and remember being awed by this brash young man going against the grain. I proudly told anyone who wanted to listen that my brother and I were named for Francis and his friend Clare. This led to an extra special bond with my one year older brother in our family of 6 kids and I think we did try to emulate some of their values. He would catch a rainbow trout for my birthday breakfast and I was very protective of him .
    Today… you gave and I received…Thank you and God Bless
    Clare (in Boissevain)

  2. Very touching and richer with Sarah’s voice. Thsnk you again Steve for your music. I have several of your Cd’s and especially loved Keening for the Dawn.

  3. I can’t tell you how many Franciscans I’ve met (both in habit or in spirit) that have found that film incredibly influential. It was how I first found Francis, too. (And now I can’t help but hear in my head a Steve Bell version of the “Take Your Time” song!)

    The desire to be a saint is perhaps all that is really required to make a saint, for it is a desire to be transformed into an image of Christ, and he longs to answer that desire with a resounding “Yes!”

  4. Hi Steve. You may remember me from Miramichi, NB [the guy who’s guitar you autographed during your last concert here – :o)] In reading your post regarding Pope Francis and his requests for prayer, you’ve personified for me the verse that says “love always trusts (believes), always hopes” (1 Cor. 13:7). Having grown up in a Catholic household and only having come to faith in Christ as a young adult, I remain skeptical re: Catholicism’s “gospel” as it relates to salvation. However, what you shared concerning your response to Pope Francis’ requests for prayer moved me to want to pray for him as well. As God appoints governments, He also appoints popes. This man is definitely in a position to be used by God to help the weak and poor of our world. So in spite of my skepticism regarding some issues, I’ll not be joining the ranks of the cynical either. Thanks for posting, and for obeying God’s call to your ministry. Much blessed and many blessings on you!

  5. Steve,

    I had a similar experience when I found out the new pope chose the name Francis. I was overcome with tremendous joy and happiness! Like you, I will pray for him and hope his papacy will touch the universal church in many extraordinary ways.

  6. Wow, Steve… I’ve liked you, but now I REALLY like you and what you stand for. As I was reading this, I was reminded of a show of yours I was at in St. Stephen, NB 12 years ago as a 21 year old know it all. I asked a little old lady who I was sitting next to which church she was from (it seemed the whole Christian community was packed into that St. Croix Vineyard Hall) to which she replied – Holy Rosary Catholic Church. True to my French Huguenot roots, I thought to myself: “hmmm, a Catholic”, smiled, turned to face the stage again and enjoyed the rest of the show.
    That night I had a nightmare. It felt like it was the end of the world (akin to those Left Behind movies) where I was running around with a machine gun, mowing down the enemy, who in my dream were Catholics. I woke in shock and said to God: “Where did that come from? I would never do that.” I sensed a response to be: “Really. That same feeling you experienced after you were surprised that the lady next to you was Catholic is what is destroying my bride today”. This planted a seed that is constantly growing into a beautiful relationship between my Catholic brothers and sisters in our community today. There seems to be a growing number of us protesting the old protest. Thank you for your facilitation both then, 12 years ago, and now with these very timely words! Bless you mate!

  7. Steve..it is amazing how the name “Francis” has touched so many. Was given the name as my middle name by the RC priest, who baptized me at the Church of St Francis of Assisi in Trinidad. Only recently, I learned that my Grandparents were married at the same church 101 years ago. At present the same church is in dire need of repair as it over 150 years old and is being inhabited by birds and termites….Hope that past parishioners could raise enough for major repairs. Thanks for sharing…always enjoy you music and still recall sharing time at the charismatic rally in Trinidad & Tobago….Bev in Mississauga

  8. A most poetic and beautiful song sung with wonderful conviction. Loved the song on the very first hearing! What a pleasure! The album is a must from my perspective! Many thanks! Hope that you’ll be back to Saint John again, and soon?!

  9. Beautiful! Sensitive arrangment of a stunning song. I know my husband is wanting to include his daughters in his music, and this will inspire him. Thanks.

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