St. Francis of Assisi

Today, October 4, is the Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi.

Is there any saint, besides our Blessed Mother, who is more revered, more universally known and admired, than St. Francis of Assisi? Probably more books, movies, and articles have been written and created about “the poor man of Assisi” than any other saint. He is regarded the world over as a symbol of peace and concern for the poor, as well as concern for animals and the environment in general. When he was elected pope, one of the cardinals turned to Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio and told him, “Do not forget the poor.” Immediately, this inspired Cardinal Bergoglio to take the name “Francis.”

Francis was born in 1182 to his parents, Pietro and Pica, in Assisi. His father was away in France when he was born, and his mother baptized him Giovanni. On his return, Pietro took to calling his new son “Francesco” in honor of his commercial success in France and his love for all things French.

Francis lived the care-free life of the young men of Assisi until he left for war against Perugia and was taken prison, being held captive for an entire year. On his return to Assisi, he went back to the life of a wealthy young man who had little responsibility and a lot of time and money to spend enjoying himself. Over the course of time, however, and helped by visions guiding and inspiring him, he joined his companions less often in their pleasure-seeking escapades and turned his thoughts more to the life of Christ and the poor. The story is told that, while selling merchandise for his father, a beggar came and asked Francis for alms. Having nothing to give him at the time, Francis completed his business, then sought out the beggar and, having found him, gave him the profits of his day. This infuriated his father, who didn’t care much for caring for the poor.

While praying in front of the crucifix in the broken-down chapel of Church of San Damiano, Francis heard a voice saying, “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” Francis took this literally, selling a horse and materials that belonged to his father and offering the money to the chaplain of San Damiano to repair the chapel. The chaplain refused the gift, however (no doubt wondering from where it came) and Francis threw the coins away. His father was furious and Francis hid out in a cave near San Damiano. When he returned to Assisi, his father brought him before the city consul and the bishop, demanding that Francis be denied his inheritance. Francis took off the clothes he was wearing and handed them to his father, saying, “Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only ‘Our Father who art in Heaven.'” So, Francis then and there surrendered all his worldly goods and embraced “Lady Poverty.”

Francis attracted followers to his life of radical adherence to the Gospel and would go on to found the Order of Friars Minor and the Order of Saint Clare, dedicated to the evangelical vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and to the service to the poor. He also founded the Third Order of Saint Francis, composed of lay men and women dedicated to the Franciscan charisms.

When Pope St. John Paul the Great gathered together religious leaders of all faiths to pray for peace in the world in 1986, it was only natural that they should gather at Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console:
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love:
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to
eternal life.                                                     — prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.


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