Thursday, 4 October 2012


“Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape.” – Canticle of the Sun, St Francis of Assisi

October 4th is the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi (born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone; 1181 – died: October 3, 1226). He was born to Bernardone, who was a wealthy cloth merchant of Assisi, a prosperous town of Umbria in Italy. He brought up his son in luxury intending him to follow his footsteps in the family business. Francis was a good-looking boy and he had for companions all the noblemen’s sons. It’s not surprising that he spent a considerable portion of his wealth in extravagant pleasures.
One day Francis when was merrymaking with his friends, a beggar came along crying for alms. Francis, who was soft-hearted, gave whatever he had in his pocket to the beggar. His companions mocked at him for his charitable act. However, this chance encounter caused him to think about the poverty and misery all around him, which until now he had ignored. He started to make amends and began to give much money to the poor. His father was alarmed by his son’s change of heart and felt the family’s fortune was being squandered, causing him to rebuke Francis.
Shortly after this, Francis became bedridden for many months on account of a serious disease, even his life being at risk at one stage. He managed to recover but his entire nature had changed and he decided to devote his life to God. Francis prayed to for light and guidance as to his future. He had a vision of Jesus who bade him go out and devote his life to the poor and miserable. He thus decided to renounce his old ways and spend the rest of his life dedicated to the service of humanity.

Francis’ parents were at first gravely disappointed and tried to dissuade him. When he stood firm by his decision, they became angry with him. Francis, however, was steadfast and began his new life by distributing his extravagant clothes, rich personal goods and much money to the poor. Francis’ father was incensed and said to his son: “Is this the gratitude you show to me ? I laboured hard and amassed wealth. You are lavishly wasting it on these miserable wretches.” Francis’ friends mocked at him when his father finally turned him out of the house and without anybody to turn to he started to live like a beggar. His old friends even pelted him with stones and mud. He bore everything with patience.

Francis went and lived in a cave in the mountains near Assisi and spent his time in prayer and meditation for two years. Sometimes kind peasants gave him food, but often he had to starve. Francis called his body “brother ass”, recognising it is the body and its needs and desires that resembles most the brute animals. He kept this “brother ass” under perfect discipline often fasting and braving the bitter cold.
He loved all God’s creatures, the birds and beasts, the poor and lowly, the depressed and the outcasts. He treated birds, beasts and all beings as his brothers and sisters. Francis went from village to village preaching the word of God which he summarised with one word: “Love”. He invited people to join him in his life of service if they were willing. Bernard, a rich man of Assisi, was very much attracted by the saintliness of Francis. He joined Francis and became his first follower. He donated all his wealth to the needy. Eleven others also joined Francis and Bernard, they too distributing all their wealth to the poor.
Francis and his followers went all over Italy preaching, teaching, healing and blessing wherever they went. The gospel of kindness and love of Francis soon spread all over Europe and earned for him the name of St. Francis. People called him the “little poor man of Assisi”. St. Francis collected many followers and founded the Order of Mendicant Friars or Franciscans. The members of this Order have to take a vow of poverty, chastity, love and obedience. St. Francis gave up his mortal coil in 1228. The followers of St. Francis built a beautiful church round him on the hill of Assisi, the hill he so dearly loved.
St Francis is the patron saint of animals, merchants and stowaways! In a famous anecdote from his life, Francis is said to have preached to hundreds of birds, his sermon being about how the birds should be thankful to God for their wonderful clothes, for their independence, and for God’s care of their every need. The story tells us the birds stood still as he walked amongst them, only flying off when he said they could leave. Another story involves a wolf that had been devouring people. Francis intervened when the town wanted to kill the wolf and talked the wolf into never killing again. The wolf became a pet of the townspeople who made sure that he always had plenty to eat…
On June 18, 1939, Pope Pius XII named Francis a joint Patron Saint of Italy along with Saint Catherine of Siena with the apostolic letter “Licet Commissa”, AAS XXXI (1939), 256-257. Pope Pius mentioned the two saints in the laudative discourse he pronounced on May 5, 1949, in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. St. Francis is honoured in the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church USA, the Old Catholic Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and other churches and religious communities on October 4. The Evangelical Church in Germany, however, commemorates St. Francis’ feast day on his death day, October 3.

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