Francis of Assisi vs. Cecilia

Today Francis of Assisi takes on Cecilia and Lent Madness voters everywhere are forced to choose between animals and music. Okay, that's just the superficial choice. It's really a choice between your childhood rabbit and your mother who sang in the church choir. The winner will face Thecla in the Elate Eight, thereby finalizing the first matchup of the next round.

Yesterday Frederick Douglass solidly defeated Juan Diego 60% to 40% to advance. Click here to see the fully updated bracket (scroll down for links to all the previous matchups including Francis' first round victory over John Wycliffe and Cecilia's defeat of Balthazar). 

We also gave you an opportunity to vote (it's what we're all good at!) for 2013 Golden Halo winner Frances Perkins to appear on the $20 bill. And, no, the SEC hasn't started printing its own purple money -- this is an initiative of the U.S. Treasury Department.

2-st-francis-of-assisi-randy-wollenmannFrancis of Assisi

The Francis of ideas is often quite different from his actual life, ministry, and words. We envision him as a quiet man surrounded by animals who founded a gentle monastic order. In reality, Francis lived his life with a holy blend of rashness, mysticism, and devotion many modern Christians would call extreme.

G.K. Chesterton notes the Bishop of Assisi, when visiting the Order and seeing them without comforts, without possessions, eating anything they could get, and sleeping on the ground, was greatly disturbed. Francis met the Bishop’s concerns with a stunning in-your-face-ness (bishops were often called upon to support military engagements) by saying, 'If we had any possessions, we should need weapons and laws to defend them.”

Francis wasn’t even his baptismal name; Giovanni was. Francis, the 12th century version of “Frenchy,” was given to him allegedly because Francis was passionate about French Troubadour poetry. While Francis did write in poetic style, he didn’t write the poetic "Prayer of St. Francis." He did, however, write this prayer of faithful hope:

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God,
grant us in our misery the grace
to do for You alone
what we know You want us to do,
and always
to desire what pleases You.

Francis is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” And while Francis did preach the Gospel in word and deed, no record attributes this quote to him. In fact, Francis was a prolific preacher to all creation. He is recorded in Little Flowers of St. Francis as preaching to the birds…using words. The anonymous writer tells: “Francis began to preach. He ordered the swallows, who were calling, to keep silence until he had finished; and the swallows obeyed his voice.”

Francis asked his companions to wait while he went to “preach to my little sisters the birds’; and entering into the field, he began to preach to the birds which were on the ground, and suddenly all those also on the trees came round him, and all listened while St Francis preached to them, and did not fly away until he had given them his blessing.”

In 1224, Francis was engaged in deep prayer when he received the Stigmata. Between the Stigmata and the physical toll from a life of denial, Francis retired to San Damiano, where he composed one of his most famous prayers, The Canticle of Brother Sun, considered the first poem written in the Italian language. Its words celebrate creation -- all creation. We read in it, “No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name. Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures.”

Chesterton writes of Francis: “His life was one riot of rash vows; of rash vows that turned out right.”

We give thanks for a man whose real life of rashness, mysticism, and devotion still gives us an example of a life lived in Christ’s love.

Laurie Brock


Cecilia is the patron saint of singers, musicians, organists, and poets. While witnessing the deaths of her husband and brother-in-law, it is believed that she was singing praises to the Lord during her own martyrdom in Rome in 280 AD.

The songs that Cecilia sang while she was being martyred have been lost to the ages. However, the many poems and songs written and performed in her honor remain great contributions to the literary and music world, and are firmly planted in society’s juke box over the centuries.

Henry Purcell’s 1692 “Hail! Bright Cecilia,” also known as “Ode to St. Cecilia,” has a text by Nicholas Brady:

Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail to thee!
 Great Patroness of Us and Harmony! 
Who, whilst among the Choir above
 Thou dost thy former Skill improve,
 With Rapture of Delight dost see
 Thy Favourite Art 
Make up a Part
 Of infinite Felicity.
 Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail to thee!
 Great Patroness of Us and Harmony!

Equally famous is Georg Friedrich Händel’s “An Ode For St. Cecilia’s Day,” from 1739. With words by Newburgh Hamilton:

But bright Cecilia raised the wonder high'r:
 When to her organ, vocal breath was giv'n,
 An angel heard, and straight appear'd,
Mistaking earth for Heav'n.

In 1941, at the beginning of World War II, the Andrews Sisters sang, in full harmony, “The Shrine of St. Cecilia”:

Our home is a shambles, all I treasured has gone
The town seems deserted, everyone's so forlorn
A storm came from up above but somehow it missed
The shrine of Saint Cecilia

I kneel in my solitude and silently pray
That heaven will protect you, dear, and there'll come a day
The storm will be over and that we'll meet again
At the shrine of Saint Cecilia

Benjamin Britten’s famous “Hymn to St Cecilia” was sparked by many reasons, among them that he was born on St Cecilia's day. Written in 1942 Britten’s piece is based on the renowned poet W. H. Auden’s Hymn to St. Cecilia:

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.

It is reported that Paul Simon claims his famous “Cecilia” refers to our saint, in her role as muse:

Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart
, You’re shaking my confidence daily. 
Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees, 
I’m begging you please to come home

Simon refers to Cecilia in another of his songs, “The Coast”:

A family of musicians took shelter for the night in the little harbor church of St. Cecilia.

In 1966, Michael Hurd composed "A Hymn to Saint Cecilia" based on John Dryden's 1687 visually stirring poem, A Song for St. Cecilia's Day:

Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place,
Sequacious of the lyre;
But bright Cecilia rais'd the wonder higher:
When to her organ vocal breath was given,
An angel heard, and straight appear'd
Mistaking Earth for Heaven.

There are numerous others through the ages who have written and composed pieces to St. Cecilia. Based on poems and music, whether old and modern, there’s no way around it – Cecilia is one popular gal!

Neva Rae Fox


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135 comments on “Francis of Assisi vs. Cecilia”

  1. I read somewhere that, despite all the other divergences, contemporary accounts of St. Francis all agree on one thing: his "extreme natural sweetness." But it is important to know that St. Francis is much more than a birdbath: he was also, in his time, a revolutionary.

    1. So I tried to vote. all kinds of nasty messages: WARNING WARNING WARNING
      so did I vote or not?

  2. Celicia was a very good and very kind and wrote songs. But I like her best in pictures of her growing up.

  3. Celicia was very good and kind and wrote songs but I like her best in pictures of her growing up.

  4. Her other song was " Does Your Mother Know You're Out, Cecelia?" SEC is too green to remember this oldie but goodie.

    1. Thanks for the jaunt down Mem'ry Lane! My mother's name was Cecilia and I recall her singing that one for as long as I remember!

      Does your mother know you're out Cecilia?
      Does she know that I'm about to steal you?
      Oh my when I look in your eyes
      Something tells me you and I should get together

      How bout a little kiss Cecilia
      Just a kiss you'll never miss Cecilia
      Why do we two keep on wasting time?
      Oh Cecilia
      Say that you'll be mine

      1. My dad used to sing this song as we drove on camping adventure or when he was singing me to sleep. Brings back some wonderful memories.

  5. Voting for Francis today because we need more rashness and risk taking in the church. And I admire him for seeking dialogue with Islam during the crusades.

  6. As an organist I feel torn, as Francis has always been a particular favourite, but Cecilia is patron saint of musicians. A Lenten headache.....!

    1. I feel your pain, Antony. I'm a musician who grew up surrounded by Franciscans. What to do?!?

    2. Headache or Heartache? This bracket hurts! But aside to belonging to a family of musicians, my dIl's Confirmation name is Cecelia; and she's a musician, too.

  7. The good news is no matter what the vote Cecelia will STILL be the matron saint of music. For me this is a no brainier - Francis 'tis!

  8. Dear SEC, Paul Simon's "Cecelia" is an infelicitous choice. Look up the rest of the lyrics, I won't put them here. Francis for me: the Church lives on music, but kindliness is more basic.

    1. *chuckle* It's a little like being told not to think of chocolate: I can't get that verse out of my mind...

    2. I have the Simon and Garfunkel cds in my car cd player. You are right, est, that is one risque song.
      Did that blogger really read all of the lyrics and listen to the music? Muse? No, more like one of the sirens of legend.
      Lent madness really does go mad at times.

  9. St. Francis is my favorite saint. When we traveled to Italy one of the places I most wanted to visit was Assisi. I love his story, from being brought up in luxury to giving it all away to follow Christ. He's got my vote!

    1. Alleluia to that. My mother and her music played a major role in my Christian formation.

    2. As a long-time choir member I voted for Cecilia, even as I said to myself that Francis will easily win this round.

      1. Thank you, Carol. I feel the same way, but being in the choir at St Cecelia's Parish, I'm sticking with Cecelia all the way to the Golden Halo.

  10. This morning Francis' message to live the Gospel, not just preach it, resonated with me. Count me in teh St. Francis group!

  11. One of my very favorite quotes is attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”

    Living my faith through outreach is important to me, and I like to think my actions, and those of my fellow volunteers, help to bring others just a little closer to God.

  12. "No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name. Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures." and ".....rash vows that turned out right".
    I decided on Francis before I read today's entries and these bits sealed the deal.

  13. Oh, for all of us to be able to do this! “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”

    1. Just sing! I think the deck was stacked: Francis has a beautiful window and dear Cecilia has a bland picture. My former church edifice has a magnificent Cecilia window

  14. I'm still struggling with Paul Simon making love in the afternoon with (St.)Cecilia up (his) bedroom.... I mean, that IS the rest of the song and it doesn't fit!

    1. (He) gets up to wash his face when (he) comes back again someone's taken (his) place.
      But at least there is ...
      Jubiliation! She loves (him) again!
      Once that lyric is stuck there is nothing to be done but play it on out. The music is joyous, too.

    2. A metaphorical muse can be as elusive and non-exclusive as Lady Luck. It's only rock and roll, anyway. I was more taken with the image of Cecilia singing praises to God in the face of tragedy and danger--so taken, I wandered away from the bird feeders and samplers and my deep fondness for Francis the Rash and voted Cecilia.

  15. Today was the first day I looked to see the results before voting. This was a toughie but Francis was my vote.

  16. As a nearly lifetime chorister I am a bit torn--but Francis' example of living the Gospel, as well as his love for God's creation and all creatures, makes him clearly a winner in my book.

  17. Music is compelling, and the creatures of the earth yet more so, but because we've been admonished to vote with deep sensitivity?!!, a very great blue heron landed in a neighboring salt marsh yesterday, and guess whose name he shouted without needing any words...yes.....

  18. Francis for his if we had possessions we would need weapons and laws to defend them comment.

  19. Today I wear my Cecilia cross, but I'm voting for Francis anyway in the hope that this will persuade the squirrels and deer in my yard to leave something for the cardinals and sparrows and even the orioles who also come to visit....

    1. Yes, whoever you vote for, this CB gets the award, I think, for best exemplifying the Quotes and Quirks theme of this round!

  20. I love both of these Saints, however, I'm a little disappointed in the description of Saint Cecilia. Quoting songs is nice but she was so much more than an inspiration for musicians, poets and artists. She converted over 400 people from what I read in other texts and she wanted her home to be used as a church. During a time when women were not really considered leaders in my opinion she was! I'm very biased with this one I must admit as my mother bears her name. So all that being said while I do love Saint Francis I'm voting for Saint Cecilia!

  21. I think one can interprit Simon's lyrics metaphorically. If St. Cecilia is the muse, then making love to her is creative expression....creative expresssion that is fleeting and unbound! That said, this is the toughest matchup. I think Francis is Golden Halo material, but these are maybe my two favorite saints ever. Sigh.

    1. As a third order Franciscan (TSSF), of course I had to vote for Francis (although I imagine he would have won without my vote...)
      But as an artist, I love your second layer of meaning for Paul Simon's Cecilia, Laura Jo; of the artist eager to keep tryst with his muse. Sometimes the stolen moments of sneaking away to the studio in the afternoon are the sweetest!

  22. I voted for Francis, but the write-up for Cecilia was one of the best I ever read for Lent Madness.

  23. Francis was a musician and poet, too. A popular biography is titled God's Troubadour. Many stories are recorded about his sweet singing.

  24. Tough choice...Francis for his whole-hearted, risk-taking witness, passionate and generous giving of his whole being to the Crucified OR Cecilia who sings at her martyrdom (not unlike the French Carmelites going to the guillotine in Paris during the Reign of Terror --look it up!). I know Francis is most likely to take this round, so remembering singing Gounod's Saint Cecilia Mass as a teenager in summer music camp, my vote today is for the sweet singer of the third century!

  25. It's odd, I have always been a big fan of St. Francis, but there was something about the writing about St. Cecelia today, and that beautiful painting of her, that swayed me. Alas, I fear she is a lost cause in this contest....

    1. You just nailed the reason why I wasn't comfortable voting for Cecilia. The writeup was all about music written about her and invoking her name. Almost nothing about what she herself did. I remember reading a little more about Cecilia's life (what is known of it) in the first round, but I think Francis did more to advance Christianity.