The feast day of St. Francis of Assisi will be celebrated on October 4th.
St. Francis was born in 1181 in Assisi, Italy. His father was Pietro di Bernardone, a wealthy cloth salesman. Francis was indifferent to school. He enjoyed good times with his friends. He was attracted to the military and was a prisoner of war for two years. He returned home, probably ransomed by his family, returning to his old life, however he became very ill. When he recovered, he returned to the military, however, in a dream he was told to return home. He was told to “serve the Master rather that the man.” His dream changed him. He turned from his wild ways and began to serve God. While praying in a neglected chapel in San Damiano, Christ spoke to him from the crucifix, “Francis, go out and build up My house, for it is nearly falling down.” Francis took this quite literally, and began to repair the old chapel. In need of money, he took some of his father’s cloth and sold it. His father accused Francis of theft. At the hearing before the bishop, he was told to return the money. Francis obeyed; however, he also removed his clothes returning them to Pietro and declaring: “I have called you father on earth, but now I say, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”
St. Francis embraced poverty. “Love of Lady Poverty” was how he described his belief that possessions were a detriment to his spirituality. After two years of living as a hermit and begging for money to repair the church, he began to attract followers to his way of living. He owned nothing, wanting to live a life of complete poverty. He lived his life caring for the poor and preaching the gospel, primarily through example. He once said; “Preach always, and when necessary, use words.” The heart of St. Francis message was joy, based on the love of Christ. He served primarily the poor, including the lepers of the time. He had a strong devotion to the Eucharist and the Cross.
By 1210 his group had grown to a dozen men. He received permission to form an order from Pope Innocent III. Originally it was called the Humbler
Brethren, or Friars Minor. They became known for the brown robes they wore. By 1219 they numbered 5,000.
Clare Sciffo was sixteen years old when she heard Francis preach. Against her parents will she became a nun under St. Francis care. Her order became known as the Poor Clares.
St. Francis became friends with St. Dominic, whom he met while begging. St. Dominic recognized him from a dream in which he had seen Francis. When he met him he embraced him saying “You are my companion and must walk with me. If we hold together, no earthly power can withstand us.” The Franciscans and Dominicans had different spiritualities, but Francis and Dominic were lifelong friends.
Some of the Franciscans wanted to change the rule of poverty. They wanted to own books so they could study scripture like the other monasteries of the time. This was contrary to Francis’ love of Lady Poverty. He went to see St. Dominic, who came up with a solution. The Franciscans were allowed to have a library, loaned to them by the Dominicans!
The Franciscans today have several different orders. There rule of poverty is not as strict as the original order.
Later, in his life, St. Francis received the stigmata (the wounds of Christ). These wounds were real and painful, a sign of how close he had come to the cross. He also suffered from a painful eye disease.
St. Francis composed several hymns, including Canticle of the Sun. He is also known for his love of nature. Animals and birds had no fear of him and he was known for his friendships with traditionally wild creatures. It is St. Francis who started the tradition of a Christmas Crèche which honored the animals present in the stable when Christ was born.
St. Francis died in the year 1226 at the age of 45, praying the 141st Psalm and his Canticle of the Sun. His final prayer was “O Lord, I thank You for the pains which I suffer.” He is the patron saint of the environment, peacemakers, and animals. His feast day is October 4th.