Book Review: The Little Flowers of Saint Francis

What is Catholic fiction? I think of it as a narrative that captivates all audiences but can also reveal the gems of Church teaching. It doesn’t have to be stiff or preachy, but the characters follow the religion–or convert–and you will definitely find God mentioned.

The problem with defining Catholic fiction is that there’s not much of it. Tolkien is often thought of as Catholic fiction, but in his shadow, the works written by new Catholic authors are often forgotten. I think there should be more Catholic fiction.

The Little Flowers of Saint Francis is a peculiar book. It reads like a work of fiction, but many of the events described in this gem of a spiritual read are real. It follows St. Francis of Assisi as he gathers men to join him in lives of humility and poverty, making friends and enemies along the way.

It is written in a very old style of English, so it reminded me of The Story of King Arthur and his Knights. The language is not the only reason I was reminded of King Arthur. St. Francis gathers his followers and together they wander from place to place, fighting battles of their own–very different battles: spiritual battles. 

Are all of the men mentioned in this book real? I can’t say I believe that, but know St. Francis gathered followers. They likely behaved much like the men in this novel. They followed St. Francis’ instructions and together became holy, able to work miracles and healings.

As you read this work, you find yourself pining for the peace these men find in the life of poverty. They own nothing, but are cheerful; they are happy with Jesus and nothing else. They are humble and often endure mockery without batting a lash.

The life of humility often causes events that might raise eyebrows. When one of the friars is almost put to death for something he did not do, he doesn’t protest his innocence; he believes that he is the greatest sinner and deserves this punishment. He has abandoned this world and is prepared to suffer for the sake of souls. He is rescued, but we see that he has reached a great degree of humility.

Is this not too extreme? you might be thinking. Should a man not defend himself if he is innocent? The issue is that none of us are innocent; we have all sinned. The friars have merely become aware of their sins. They want to resign themselves to Jesus alone; anything else is worthless to them.

I’m not saying to allow someone to punish you for something you didn’t do, but I believe that you will learn great spiritual wisdom from The Little Flowers of Saint Francis. This might be more of a fiction than a biography; its origins are unclear, according to the introduction. 

St. Francis, however, is not fiction. His humility is real. He was actually spotted preaching to birds and wolves. I therefore believe this to be a work of Catholic historical fiction full of graces to dispense to the openminded reader.

If you need a spiritual read, I recommend this little-known book. It will show you how a person can change when they give their entire lives to Christ.

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