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St. Francis Of Assisi

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Category: Religion

Autor: anton 31 October 2010

Words: 2908 | Pages: 12

St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most well-known and beloved saints of all time. Known for his radical poverty and love of God, St. Francis stands out amongst other saints as being the embodiment of the phrase “fool for Christ.” He was considered a fool by many of his contemporaries but the so-called “madness” that possessed him began to spread and more and more people began to want be “foolish” like this man. Was St. Francis mad? Yes, but not in the crazy sense, he was madly in love with God.

St. Francis, in his youth, desired to be a knight. He loved the troubadours’ songs of love and heroic battles. A longing was born in him to join the Crusades and fight for the Church. Little did he know that his dreams would be fulfilled and in a way beyond anything he could imagine. For Francis would become a knight fighting for the heavenly kingdom; he would become a troubadour but he would sing hymns of praise and joy to God; and Francis would fight in The Crusade to reconquer the world for Christ by becoming a channel of God’s peace in the world.

Francesco Bernardone was born in 1882 to one of the wealthier families in the town of Assisi, Italy. A legend dating back to the 15th century, concerning his birth, speaks of a pilgrim (believed to be an angel) who arrived unannounced at the Bernardone home at the moment that little Francesco or Francis was to be born. This visitor declared that the baby would not be born until the mother had moved into the stable. The move was made and the cries of the first-born son – “whose first cradle, like that of the Savior, was a manger full of straw in a stable” - were soon heard.

In Baptism, Francis was christened Giovanni (Italian for John) by his mother but his father, who had been away at the time, had the name changed to Francesco, because of his love for France. Francis’s father, Pietro Bernardone, was a cloth merchant who came from a background of famous weavers from Lucca. His mother, Lady Pica, belonged to a noble family from Provence in France, where his father did business. From the beginning both parents had high hopes and expectations of Francis. Pietro was eager to engage his son in business affairs, while his mother hoped that he would become a knight and serve the Church.

Francis was introduced to his father’s business at an early age and though he had the talent and charisma to be a good businessman he was very liberal with his money, often spending it on expensive frivolities or giving it away to the poor, which angered his father. Francis received a decent education but was not particularly studious. Through his studies, he did however acquire a love of the French culture. The romantic ideal of knighthood that was portrayed in the French songs sung by the traveling troubadours captivated Francis , seeding in his heart a desire to live that knightly ideal that was popular at the time.

In his younger years, Francis’s lifestyle did not give any indication as to the kind of life he would live later on. Thomas of Celano who wrote a biography of St. Francis said that in his early life “he attracted to himself a whole retinue of young people addicted to evil and accustomed to vice.” Being well liked by all for his lighthearted and generous personality, he had many friends and seemed to stand out as a natural leader among them.

Francis did not have the obnoxious and selfish behavior that was common among those of higher rank. From the beginning, he had a special love for the poor even in his wild youth and was very generous to them. Though he loved to spend money especially on parties for his friends, he could just as easily give it away to a poor beggar. There was one occasion while he was working in his father’s shop and being busy, he shooed a beggar away. “Charity for the love of God” the poor man had begged as he left. This phrase stayed with Francis and he was filled with shame for what he done, believing in the words spoken by Jesus that “as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.”

At around 20 years of age, something began to change in Francis. He grew restless with the emptiness that he found in his lifestyle and decided to fulfill his boyhood dream by becoming a knight. When war broke out in 1202 between Assisi and the neighboring Perugia, Francis was eager to go and fight but the war was a disaster for Assisi. Francis, among many others, was captured for a year before being released.

This did not dampen Francis’s resolve to live the knightly ideal and he enlisted in the army of Gualtiero di Brienne, who was fighting for the defense of the Church against Emperor Fredrick II. But God had different plans for the young man; on the eve of his departure a strange dream came to him, which would be the birth of his conversion.

In his dream, Francis saw a huge hall, filled with brilliant amour all branded with a cross and he heard a voice saying, “All this shall belong to you and to your knights.” Francis was pleased by this and eagerly set out the next day but sickness once again took hold of Francis and he was confined to his bed. It was in this sickness that he heard again the same voice, this time, biding him to return home. Upon awaking Francis abandoned his journey and returned to Assisi.

Francis did not immediately give up everything he had and start preaching the Gospel. It was a very difficult time for him spiritually. He took to wandering the countryside in prayerful solitude. On one such day Francis came across a leper. He was shocked to see the deformity and vivid pain of this man, but in this beggar’s eyes, Francis knew that he was seeing Jesus suffering. Reaching out, he embraced and kissed the leper and continued on his way filled with a joy he had never experienced. Francis had conquered himself. In this encounter with the leper, Francis had, at that moment, found Christ and had, whether he knew it or not, dedicated himself to a life of service.

His friends, in attempts to understand his strange behavior, concluded that he must be thinking of marriage. To which Francis replied that he was indeed going to marry a woman “more beautiful, more rich, more pure than you could ever imagine.” This bride would be Francis’s “Lady Poverty” to whom he would join himself to forever. With this decision, Francis renounced his former life of vanity and “from that hour he began to value himself little.”

As Francis was praying in the half-ruined church of San Damiano he heard the voice speaking to him again from the crucifix, “Francis, seest thou not that my house is in ruins? Go and restore it for me.” Francis took the words literally and collecting some of his father’s finest fabrics, he sold them along with his own horse for money to repair the church. Pietro Bernardone was enraged. Summoning Francis before the bishop and the town, he demanded that Francis give him back the money from the fabrics and that he be disinherited and banished from Assisi.

Francis without hesitation not only gave back all the money but also his very own clothes saying, “Listen, all of you, to what I have to say! Hitherto I have called Pietro di Bernardone father. Now I return to him his money and all the clothes I got from him, so that hereafter I shall not say: Father Pietro di Bernardone, but Our Father who art in heaven!” From then on Francis had nothing but everything. He lived completely like a beggar and continued to repair the churches around Assisi, not yet knowing that God had not meant the church but the Church, the Body of Christ.

Francis’s real apostolate began in 1209 when he realized the true meaning of the words that God had spoken to him. On hearing the gospel reading of Matthew 10: 7 in which Jesus tells his apostles to go forth and proclaim the Gospel taking nothing with them and expecting nothing in return, Francis began his work of repairing the Church. Bernardo di Quintavalle was the first companion of Francis and certainly not the last. Francis had not intended to start an order or community but he accepted the men who wanted to join him with joy.

Once when St. Francis was asked why so many people followed him he answered, “Because the eyes of the Most High God have not seen anywhere among the sinners anyone more vile, or more imperfect, or a greater sinner than I. And in order to accomplish the marvelous work which He intends He has elected me to confound the nobility, the majesty, the right, the beauty, and the wisdom of the world, in order to make it known that every virtue and every good thing comes from Him and not from the creature.” Francis’s great humility caused him never to see himself as doing anything extraordinary but rather Christ alone working in him.

When the number of companions had reached 11, Francis decided a rule of life was necessary. The rule was the passage from the Gospel of Matthew 10:7. After this rule was established the brothers set out for Rome to receive the Pope’s blessing on their community. At first Pope Innocent III was disinclined to receive Francis’s request until he had a dream in which he saw the church beginning to fall but then being held up by a poor man. Innocent III realizing this man was St. Francis gave the order his blessing.

Saint Francis had a different approach to preaching the Gospel than many of the other contemporary orders at that time. He wanted his brothers to preach the Gospel, not necessarily with words but through example. “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words” is a famous quite attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

The example of St. Francis and his brothers drew many to come and join their way of life. In 1212, a young girl, now known as St. Clare of Assisi, came to Francis asking is she could join the order, and so the Order of Poor Dames was established. The Penitential Brothers or the Third Order Franciscans were created around 1221 in response to the many people, especially married couples, who wanted to live the Franciscan spirituality but who did not feel called to become a consecrated monk or nun.

One might wonder how a rule based on radical poverty and self-denial can be appealing to so many people. The answer is not a difficult one. St. Francis in doing God’s will found incredible joy and peace. Being a natural leader from his youth, his person radiated this joy. People saw that this man, despite having nothing, was living more fully in his poverty than they ever could in all their riches. Francis might have been the materially poorest man in all of Europe but he was definitely one of the most spiritually rich men that the world has ever seen. When you no longer live for yourself but for Christ in you and in others, life takes on a whole new meaning and focus. This is what the men and women saw in St. Francis’s spirituality and vision.

The Franciscan orders did not remain in Italy. By 1217 they were all over Europe and even in Egypt (where Francis had his famous meeting with the Muslim Sultan) and Palestine, where St. Francis also evangelized. The missionary activity of the friars “marked the awakening of a European world consciousness and the end of the geographical Dark Ages.” The Franciscans had by this time added the Dominican ideal of teaching into their order after the two great founders had met in 1218.

Cardinal Ugolino, perhaps the biggest supporter of the Franciscans, had arranged this meeting in the hopes that perhaps the two orders might merge as one. The union did not take place, due mainly to Francis’s opposition to it, but through this meeting “the Dominicans adopted the Franciscan principle of corporate poverty and became known as friars” and the “Franciscans adopted the Dominican ideal of a teaching order and shared their intellectual activity and their participation in the life of the medieval universities.”

On November 29, 1223 the final rule of the order (the one that is still used to this day) was approved by Pope Honorius III. St. Francis had three years prior to this event resigned his role as head of the order and now spent much of his time on the mountain of Verna, which was given as a gift to the order by count Orlando di Chiusi. It was on that mountain on September 17, 1223 that Francis of Assisi received the greatest gift of his life – the chance to share personally the full sufferings of Christ’s five wounds.

Francis had arisen early that morning, which was the great feast of the Triumph of the Cross and prayed “O Lord Jesus Christ, two favors I beg of thee before I die. The first is, that I may, as far as possible, feel in my soul and in my body the suffering which thou, O gentle Jesus, sustained in thy bitter passion. And the second favor is, that I, as far as it is possible, may receive into my heart that excessive charity by which thou, the Son of God, wast inflamed, and which actuated thee willingly to suffer so much for us sinners.”

St. Francis’s prayer was heard. An angel appeared to him, holding an image of the crucified Jesus. As he stood gazing at Love crucified, pain beyond all comprehension swept over him as he heard a voice saying “ Do you know what I have done to you? I have given you the stigmata that are the marks of my Passion, in order that you may be My standard-bearer”. The vision disappeared and Francis became aware of Christ’s wounds on his body – the hands, the feet, and side. Francis wept for joy! “Love had transformed him into the Beloved, as one becomes what one loves”.

St. Francis’s final years were riddled with immense suffering and joy. His body broken by years of severe poverty and traveling succumbed often to sickness and eventually blindness – which is said may have come as a result of the hours that he spent weeping over his sinfulness and the sufferings of Christ. It was in his sickness and suffering that St. Francis composed his beautiful Canticle to the Sun, in which he praises the Lord through creation. Francis had a special relationship/kinship with nature as both of them had been created by God. He felt God’s presence and majesty in creation and it brought him unspeakable joy.

Francis never lost his love of music and song and especially in the early days of the order, the brothers would often be heard singing. Francis once describe himself as “the herald of a great King.” He was right. In some way the life of St. Francis is the greatest love song that has ever been composed. Even on his deathbed, he raised his voice in prayerful song to the words of Psalm 141. “And as his voice ceased all was still as death… St. Francis of Assisi had closed his lips forever; he went into eternity singing.” But like all great musicians, Francis’s song did not die with him. It echoes on to this day in the spirit of the Franciscans and those who embrace like St. Francis the cross of Love.

St. Francis died on October 3 1226 in his hometown of Assisi surrounded by his beloved brothers. He had asked that Sister Death might come and take him in his nakedness, in his nothingness, and thus the great saint was laid upon the ground, clad in nothing but his humanity, as Christ himself had died. When he died “there was a sudden stillness… for the stopping of the great heart that had not been broken till it held the world.”

St. Francis was a simple man with an extraordinary love for God and creation that overflowed from his heart, forming the religious orders of consecrated men and women and the unconsecrated laity that still exist to this day. What makes St. Francis the saint that he is, is not that he was the founder of one of the largest religious orders in the world but rather that his life was lived in true imitation of Christ. He answered the vocation to which Christ calls each one of us – to be imitators of the Word, who is Jesus. “He must increase, but I must decrease” , these words of St. John are what St. Francis lived each day.

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