St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis was born at Assisi in Umbria, in 1181 or 1182 the exact year is uncertain; he also died there on October 3, 1226. His father, Pietro Bernardone, was a wealthy Assisian cloth merchant. Of his mother, Pica, little is known, but she is said to have belonged to a noble family of Provence. There is legend that he was born in a stable, however it dates from the fifteenth century and appears to be the invention of writers who wished to make St. Francis' life appear more like Jesus'. Francis was one of several children. His family was financially stable and Francis was educated so he would be able to help his father when he was old enough, though he didn't take an ardent interest in his formal education.

As Francis grew up, he enjoyed many worldly pleasures and was well thought of among the noble population of Assisi. but even before his conversion experience he was balanced with a great generosity and love of God's people. He decided he would undertake a military career. During one minor skirmish with the forces of a rival city Francis was captured and spent over a year as a prisoner. During his imprisonment he had time to reflect on the more important things, especially when an illness took him. He saw the emptyness of his previous existence and it's fleeting pleasures. He had a brief relapse into frivolity after his recovery and return home. During another march to battle he was told in a dream to return to Assisi, which he did immediately

He occaionally reveled with his friends but his heart was no longer in it. Francis' life was completely changed one day when he was riding through Umbria on horseback and he came across a leper and saw the great needs of the man. Francis gave the leper all the money he had with him. Shortly afterward he made a pilgrimage to Rome. When he visited the Tomb of St. Peter he was moved to leave all his money on it, trade his clothes for a beggar's rags and spend the rest of the day in fast with the beggars at the door of St. Peter's.

Francis set out to do the will of God. He began to give more and more of his time and possessions to the poor. As Francis began to move his life more and more to the service of God, his father began to become angry with him. He had been praying the decaying chapel of St. Damino a voice told him "Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin." He impulsively took a load of his father's fine cloth and draperies and sold them and his horse to get the money he needed to complete the repairs to the chapel. His father was enraged, and Francis went into hiding in a nearby cave for a month only emerging when a month later, starving and pale. A mob mocked him as a madman and threw mud at him until his father took him home and locked him up. The money he got for the cloth and horse was returned to his father.

Francis' mother freed him and he returned to live with the priest who ran St. Damino. At this point Francis' father decided to force him to give up his life as a merchant and his inheritance. Francis himself was thrilled with the prospect and before the bishop of Assisi and it's people he stripped his clothes off with the words: "Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only 'Our Father who art in Heaven'" he gave up the life of a merchant and renounced all his rights to his inheritance.

Francis put his full attention on the repair of St. Damino and began to beg for alms to raise the needed money. He eventually suceeded in repairing not only St. Damino but two other neglected chapels in the area of Assisi. He also redoubled his efforts on behalf of the poor and in nursing to lepers, and took to keeping no possesions and wearing the rough, brown, wool tunics of the poorest peasants. While he was working on these tasks, he began to attract followers. Bernard of Quintavalle, a wealthy businessman, was the first to join Francis. He was soon followed by Peter of Cattaneo, a well-known canon at the cathedral. In searching for God's will for the conduct of their lives, Francis was led to the biblical passages where Christ told His disciples to leave all things and follow Him. He led his followers to the town square where they gave all their belongings to the poor and put on tunics like Francis'.

In about 1208 when Francis had organized his rule of life, now known as The First Rule of the Friars Minor he and his companions went to Rome to seek the approval of the Holy See. Francis was initially rebuffed by Pope Innocent III but the pontiff rethought his position after two events: the Bishop of Assisi who was in Rome at the time recommended Francis to Cardinal John of St. Paul, who insisted the Holy Father see Francis again. The pope also had a dream in ahich he saw Francis holding up the Lateran. He granted them approval and gave them permission to preach everywhere.

The Order of Friars Minor grew rapidly as men of all stations of life saw Francis and his followers traveling and spreading the gospel in groups of two and were moved to join them. The Friars slept in haylofts grottos and church steps, they worked in the fields with laborers or begged for alms if no work was offered. The Benedictines gave them the Chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, which they built small huts, or cells, around creating the first Franciscan convent.

St. Clare joined Francis in 1212 after hearing him preach in her church and asked to be allowed to be the first woman to follow his rule of life. She was only 18 years old and had left her home secretly during the night. Francis gave her a Minorite habit, cut her hair and received her to the life of austerity. She stayed with nearby Benedictine nuns until Francis set her up in a small dwelling, again given to him by the Benedictines, at the chapel of St. Damino which he had rebuilt himself. This was the first convent of the Second Franciscan Order of Poor Ladies, now known as Poor Clares

Francis and his followers travelled and preached all over Europe, gaining popularity and followers everywhere. Francis himself preached before the Pope and Cardinals at the Lateran in 1217 and met St. Dominic during that stay in Rome. Lay people were so moved by Francis' preaching that they came to him pleading to join his order, once an entire congregation implored him en masse. At this point he devised his Third Order, which he intended as a middle state for people who weren't ready or able to leave all for the cloister. Many Franciscans also went to preach to the Muslims, Francis himself preached to the sultan as he and his army were faced by crudasers from Europe. Many of the friars who went to Muslim lands were martyred.

Francis' first rule was only approved verbally by Innocent III, and in written form it was overly long and not precise. After some relaxations in the austerity he desired for his friars and imposition of rules by outside or unauthorized people, Francis retired to solitude to entrust an official version of his rule of life to paper. (After he finished a first version it was promptly lost, and Francis was forced to retire again to re-write it.) The rule was pared down from 23 to 12 chapters, and was solemnly approved by Pope Honorius III on November 29, 1223. It was unique up to that time in that it stressed the vow of poverty, which it made absolute, and in the compromise between the secular and religious states in his Third Order.

Late in his life Francis received the Stigmata, as told in this account from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Early in August, 1224, Francis retired with three companions to "that rugged rock 'twixt Tiber and Arno", as Dante called La Verna, there to keep a forty days fast in preparation for Michaelmas. During this retreat the sufferings of Christ became more than ever the burden of his meditations; into few souls, perhaps, had the full meaning of the Passion so deeply entered. It was on or about the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September) while praying on the mountainside, that he beheld the marvellous vision of the seraph, as a sequel of which there appeared on his body the visible marks of the five wounds of the Crucified which, says an early writer, had long since been impressed upon his heart.

The Catholic Encyclopedia also gives this account of Francis death:

On the eve of his death, the saint, in imitation of his Divine Master, had bread brought to him and broken. This he distributed among those present, blessing Bernard of Quintaville, his first companion, Elias, his vicar, and all the others in order. "I have done my part," he said next, "may Christ teach you to do yours." Then wishing to give a last token of detachment and to show he no longer had anything in common with the world, Francis removed his poor habit and lay down on the bare ground, covered with a borrowed cloth, rejoicing that he was able to keep faith with his Lady Poverty to the end. After a while he asked to have read to him the Passion according to St. John, and then in faltering tones he himself intoned Psalm cxli. At the concluding verse, "Bring my soul out of prison", Francis was led away from earth by "Sister Death", in whose praise he had shortly before added a new strophe to his "Canticle of the Sun". It was Saturday evening, 3 October, 1226, Francis being then in the forty-fifth year of his age, and the twentieth from his perfect conversion to Christ.

Francis was canonized by Gregory IX less than two years later on July 16, 1228. His feast is celbrated on October 3.

Canticle to Brother Sun

Prayer of St. Francis

St. Francis' Way of the Cross

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