Here at, we’re delighted to share with you a special guest post by author Stephen Martin, author of the recently published book The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, published by Sorin Books (an imprint of Ave Maria Press). Stephen was also recently interviewed on the America Magazine podcast about his book. Drawing on Francis of Assisi’s self-referential nickname as “God’s Fool,” Martin offers us his take on St. Francis and invites us to look at the Saint from Assisi as a model for discovering our own vocation and living the Christian life.

Long before he became an iconic spiritual figure, St. Francis of Assisi was not unlike a modern day frat boy – a popular, privileged kid who loved to party. How did he grow into a revolutionary man of faith?

Simply put: He wasn’t afraid to make a fool of himself. And he can teach us to do the same on our own paths toward purpose.

My new book The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation explores several examples of St. Francis behaving like a fool in the world’s eyes – and being rewarded with a deeper understanding of his calling, not to mention holiness. Let’s take a look at three of his lessons:

  1. Give away your armor: Preparing to take part in a new military campaign, which many young men did in pursuit of knighthood, Francis outfitted himself with the best armor money could buy and readied for his journey. But the evening before his departure, he suddenly gave the armor away to a poor knight who couldn’t afford his own.It was one of Francis’ first steps toward the selfless, countercultural attitude that later defined him. It was also a vivid display of how, quite literally, to let down your defenses. By spurning the battle, Francis sacrificed a coveted shot at glory. He also set himself up for accusations of being a coward. And he gave away a perfectly good suit of armor on a whim, surely to his father’s dismay.  In a hurtful world, we all encase ourselves in shells, and clinging to them prevents us from growing. What is one step you can take today to let your armor down?
  2. Play the beggar: Later on, Francis traveled to Rome, where he impulsively gave away all his silver coins at the tombs of the apostles. Walking outside the tombs, he saw a beggar and swapped his own designer clothes for the beggar’s rags. Then he spent a short time begging. Before long, he retrieved his fancy clothes and went home.What must his friends have thought of this display? To them (and perhaps to the beggar as well!), Francis probably looked like a poseur or idiot for dabbling in begging and then quickly retreating into his wealthy cocoon. But he did gain much-needed experience, if only briefly, in seeing the world from a radically different perspective. Many of our problems come from a tendency to judge others without having walked in their shoes. Can you pick one person you don’t understand and spend a little time trying to understand their point of view?
  3. Kiss the leper: On one level, giving away his armor and playing the beggar were silly. But doing foolish things prepared Francis for his most life-changing gesture of all. One day in the valley below Assisi, he came upon a leper, whose foul odors and ugliness he normally avoided. This time, though, Francis spontaneously kissed his hand. Then, further jeopardizing his health, he took another step and embraced the leper for the kiss of peace.It was a long way from there to founding the Franciscans. But from then on, Francis was a new man, focused on serving God and living in full communion with others. Kissing the leper became his way of embracing fear and moving all the way through to the other side of it. And on that other side he found the seeds of his calling. We are all held back by fears. Can you find the strength to pick one and move toward it instead of away from it? Your calling could be waiting there.

Some people might think you’re a fool for letting down your guard, questioning your viewpoints or doing things that scare you. But what are we all called to be, if not holy fools?

Stephen Martin is a speechwriter and journalist who blogs at His first book The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, was recently released by Sorin Books.

Photo: File


  1. Hi Stephen,

    This was a very powerful post with some great messages that show spirituality, is key in moving towards a life, where we are truely living, without fear, and are there to service those who need help the most.

    Real strength indeed comes in learning to let go. Every little step is progress. We spend so much of our lives trying to amass this or that, falsely believing it will make us happy. We’re all going to have to let it go one day. Might as well start learning how to do so now.

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