Saint Francis of Assisi
By Sr. Maria Francis
Francis was the son of Peter Bernardone, a wealthy merchant of Assisi. His mother was Pica who was of noble birth. He grew up with a sincere and generous character, tenderly loved by his family, although sometimes they scolded him for a habit of giving away everything he had. His father said, “We shall make a sharp merchant out of him!” for he could not wait as assistant in his business, while the mother said, “We shall make a valiant knight of him, a soul of God,” for she dreamed of the gardens and the chivalry of her native country. From his father, he learned all the tricks and risks of trade; from his mother, the prayers of the faith, the songs of the troubadours; and from the priests, who were the schoolteachers, he learned Latin and the abacus.
Francis was always cheerful, never coarse. Rudeness, bad words, vulgarity repulsed him like a splash of mud on a garment or a spot of grease on the tablecloth. For Francis was more elegant in thought than in dress, and he loved the beauty of the soul more than the beauty of things. When a companion started to tell a dirty story Francis did not reprove him or become scandalized. He was silent. He was silent as one who was absent, for some things do not deserve attention or an answer. And the companion understood and was ashamed.
He was courteous to all by nature and chivalrous by intent. Only once did he send away a beggar who had come into the shop at the busiest time. “Charity for the love of God,” moaned the ragged beggar among the customers crowded around Francis’ counter. For the love of God. That ordinary expression planted itself in the heart of the youth as of it had reached him for the first time and assailed him with remorse. “If that beggar had been sent by some prince to ask for alms,” he said to himself, “you would have fallen over yourself to please him. And if he asks in the name of the King of Kings can you deny him anything? Or should you not be more courteous and generous to do him honor.”
His elegance and courtesy were not vainglory but rather the expression of a passion to do well whatever he had to do and to be the first in all things. Not in order to be praised nor vanquished others but to be pleasing and be loved.
Our Lord, whose delight it is to show mercy to the merciful, intended to tear Francis away from the danger of worldly pleasure and draw him to Himself. He permitted Francis to become seriously ill. As Francis lay in the solitude of the sick chamber, exhausted in body, his soul was being prepared by God for higher things. He felt a great longing for perfection, and heroic self-conquest was needed as a foundation for that edifice.
When Francis recovered his health, he was one day crossing the plain of Assisi on horseback, when he met a leper. The unexpected sight he remembered his resolution, dismounted and hastened to kiss the hand of the leper and then pressed alms into it. As he remounted and turned to salute the leper once more, there was no one to be seen anywhere on the plain. Seemingly Christ had appeared to him in the form of a leper.
Francis so loved the poor that he frequently associated with them. Complying with a divine command, he also begged stones to repair three ruined churches. His father was enraged at this strange conduct, and had his son brought before the bishop of Assisi. There Francis returned to his father not only the money he had but also the clothes he wore, saying: “Now I can say, Our Father, who art in heaven.” The bishop gave him an old gardener’s cloak, on the back of which Francis drew a cross with a piece of white chalk. He now begged our Lord to make known to him His will regarding the future.
Soon after, Francis was at holy Mass in the Portiuncola, hearing the Gospel in which our Lord commissions His apostles to carry about with them neither gold, nor silver, nor two coats nor shoes, the heart of Francis was filled with joy, for he recognized in it the will of God regarding his own life. In a coarse penitential garb, girded with a cord, without shoes, he entered upon a life of complete poverty and began to preach penance. Francis was then twenty-six years old.
Several companions soon joined him. When they were eleven in number, he went with them to Rome, where Pope Innocent III gave his approval to the new order. They lived in the severest poverty and in brotherly harmony, preaching penance to the people both by their example and their words.
In order to open the way of perfection for all who wished to imitate his life, Francis established a Second Order headed by St. Clare and a Third Order for people of both sexes living in the world. His love for souls inspired him to labor for all his fellowmen.
It was about the passion and death of Christ on the Cross that filled his heart with love of his Savior, and he strove to become as similar to the object of his love as possible. Two years before his death on Mount La Verna, the crucified Savior appeared to Francis in the form of a seraph and impressed on his body the marks of the five sacred wounds.
Francis knew in advance the day of his death. Prepared by all the consolations of Holy Church, and lying on the bare ground in imitation of his Savior’s death on the cross, Francis passed to his heavenly home on October 3, 1226.
ON FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ST. FRANCIS:
St. Francis can say to us all: “Be followers of me, as I also am of Christ” (1Cor. 4:16). He felt a strong attachment for the poor, because he saw in them the poor Christ. And because he always beheld Christ in poverty from the Crib to the Cross, he longed for the greatest poverty; he wanted to be deprived of everything material, that he might find God and call Him his own. He would cry out in holy rapture through entire nights: “My God and my all!” “Whatsoever is not God,” says Thomas a Kempis (3,31), “is nothing and ought to be accounted nothing. For a long time shall he be little, and lie groveling beneath, who esteems anything great but only the one, immense, eternal Good. Forsake all, and you shall find all; relinquish desire, and you shall find rest.”
St. Francis was deeply attached to our Lady the Mother of God under the title of Queen of the Angels and at a shrine dedicated to her under that name popularly known as the “Little Portion.” How much and how characteristically his love for Her is evident in the famous indulgence of pardon Francis obtained for the shrine from Christ through the help of Mary.
St. Francis free of all self-love, he sacrificed himself for others, and in humility he called himself and his brethren Friars Minor, looking upon himself in all sincerity as the greatest of sinners.
Consider how the poor and humble heart of St. Francis raised itself to God by means of the things of earth. He saw in created things whatever they possessed of goodness, usefulness and beauty. But his heart did not cling to these things; rather, his thought mounted to the Author of all that is good, useful and beautiful. Created things became for him the rungs of a ladder on which he climbed to the uncreated Source of all goods. Burning with love, he then called upon all created things to join him in thanking and praising the Creator; thanking Him also for all suffering through which God accomplished His Holy will in him. With the praise of God on his lips, he went into eternity in order to continue it at the throne of God amid the choirs of the seraphim.
May St. Francis intercede for us that we may be enabled to follow him in his footsteps and the grace to imitate him in despising the things of this world and to merit in eternity to share the heavenly gifts. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Below is the letter of St. Francis to the faithful. If someone understood and applied it in practice, someone would surely reach the goal of perfection:
LETTER TO ALL THE FAITHFUL
St. Francis wrote this letter to the faithful:
“Since I am the servant of all I am obliged to serve all and to carry out the fragrant words of my Lord, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the Word of the Father. I must also bring to your attention the words of the Holy Spirit, which are spirit and life. Although all the world’s riches were his, Christ and his blessed mother chose poverty. He subjected his will to the will of his Father, saying: Father, your will be done; not as I will but as you will. Now this was the will of his Father that his blessed Son whom he gave us and who was born for us should offer himself by shedding his blood as a sacrifice and victim on the altar of the cross. This sacrifice was not for himself through whom all things were made, but for our sins thus leaving us an example that we should follow in his footsteps.
He wants us all to be saved through him and to receive him with pure heart and sinless body. How happy and blessed are they who love the Lord and do what he says in the Gospel: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul, and your neighbor as yourself. Let us therefore love God and adore him with pure heart and soul since he says that he is especially seeking authentic worshippers who will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Let us sing his praises and pray day and night because we must pray always without losing heart.
We must also fast and abstain from vices and sins and from excess in food and drink, and be Catholics. We must visit churches frequently and show reverence to clerics not only for their own sake, even though they be sinners, but because of the office they hold and because of the ministry of the most holy body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which they offer on the altar and which they receive and administer to others. Let all firmly believe that no one can be saved except through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Lord’s holy words which clerics proclaim and administer.
We must love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. We are to observe the commandments and counsels of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must also deny ourselves and submit our bodies to the yoke of service and of holy obedience just as each one promised the Lord.
We are not to be wise and prudent according to the flesh, but rather simple and humble and pure.
I, friar Francis, your least servant, by the love that is God beg and implore all whom this letter may reach to receive these fragrant words of our Lord Jesus Christ with humility and love and fulfill them in love and observe them to the letter. May the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit bless all who accept them with love and understand them and persevere to the end in outing them into practice. Amen.”