I find G.K. Chesterton somewhat frustrating. He's a great writer, full of inventive turns of phrases and his social and religious commentary is spot-on, but he has a tendency to go on and on, hammering the point to an extent that it becomes tedious.
I'm reminded of Mel Brooks, who can be very funny, but he also has a tendency to milk a gag too much, so that the laughter fades and you look at your watch, waiting for the scene to end.
That being said, St. Francis of Assisi has its going points, and it is not so much a biography as a portrait and an explanation, an attempt to bring an earlier, more vivid view of the world into a jaded, secular materialist frame.
Chesterton's point is that modern audiences simply can't relate to many historical figures because we've been blinded to the supernatural and have a reflexive need to discredit remarkable things. Even after my conversion, I remained in this mode of thinking, looking for a "rational explanation" for things.
But what if spiritual warfare is the rational explanation? It's been documented for thousands of years in every culture. Are they all wrong and we're the Anointed Few who finally get it? If so, what are the fruits of our knowledge? What blessings are we finding due to this discovery?
Well, for starters our birth rates are plummeting, our young people are mutilating themselves and committing suicide, societal cohesion is collapsing and by every measure people are finding less happiness and fulfillment than their grandparents did while living on the oppression of religious teaching.
Chesterton picked up on this trend a century ago, and his vindication is complete. I think that's why his works have such relevance.
An additional element that makes this book in particular a timely read is the stark contrast between St. Francis (blunt, plain-speaking without a hint of guile) and the pope who has taken his name. Pope Francis buries his writings in contradictions and ambiguity, leaving even his supporters wondering what they are supposed to be defending. The recent fiasco surrounding blessing "irregular relationships" is but one of many examples.
St. Francis of Assisi could quiet flocks of birds with a kind word, and fearlessly approached mighty leaders, even trying to convert one of the caliphs. Quite the contrast.