St Francis of Assisi

St Francis of Assisi is one of the most beloved Catholic saints.

He was a mystic and a poet. A lover of humanity and nature.
A herald of God's peace.
 

FrancisLeftFrancis was born in 1182 to wealthy family of cloth traders in the town of Assisi in the north-east of Italy. He initially wanted to be a knight and experienced battle and capture in a skirmish between Assisi and the neighbouring town of Perugia. On the losing side he spent several months as a prisoner. He planned to join the army of Walter Brienne who was fighting for the Papal States.

On the way to join the army he experienced a dream in a fever that so disturbed him he returned to Assisi. In the dream he heard a voice question him "Who is it better to serve, the Master or the Servant?" 

On returning to Assisi he adopted a life as a penitent. Before the Cross in the small ruined chapel of San Damiano Francis again heard a voice, "Go build my Church." Francis took the words literally and spent his time rebuilding ruined churches in the area. His father concerned about his changed behaviour accused him of stealing from him and demanded return of some money. During 1206 in front of the Bishop of Assisi Francis stripped naked and handed his cloths to his father. The Bishop embraced Francis and Francis began to wear the simple cloths of a peasant.

Around this time Francis met a leper on a road. Fearing the disease he initially aimed to avoid the leper. Overcoming his fear he sought to care for the leper. When he did Francis experienced the leper as Christ present. 

At Mass listening to the Gospel telling his apostles to take "Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff." After seeking advice from a priest he exclaimed "This is what I want! This is what I'm looking for!" He adopted the simple clothes recogised now as the Franciscan habit and a Gospel focused lifestyle. He greeted people with a call to Peace and Goodness.

The Lord gave Francis brothers as others saw the gift of grace that God had given Francis. A small band of twelve men initially lived a simple life of repairing chapels and caring for lepers begging their needs from the citizens of Assisi. With a simple rule based on the Gospel they sought from Innocent III officially recognition by the Church. Initially rebutted Innocent III changed his mind and approved their simple rule in 1209.

The Order of Friars Minor (Order of the Little Brothers) grew rapidly attracting both lay men and priests. St Clare who was from a wealth family saw in Francis her ideal of Gospel life and Francis helped her form a group of poor sisters who became the Order of St Clare. Francis life inspired many to turn their life towards Christ and people who could not follow Francis' strict rule joined together and formed what is now called the Order of Franciscan Secular.

Francis travelled with the Crusades where he crossed the battlefront in Egypt to talk of Christ's Peace with the Sultan in 1219. A relationship of trust developed and this enabled the Franciscan's presence in the Holy Land.

Francis continued to live a life alternating between service to the poor and a life in contemplation in wild places. He suffered physically from his strict life and mentally from what he saw as the worldiness of some his followers. This wordliness was expressed not only in the accumulation of wealth but also of power, both lay and clerical. He stepped down from leadership of the Order in 1220 and worked on a more legalistic rule. This rule was approved by the Pope in 1223 and is the Franciscans current rule.

StFrancisRightFrancis experienced his depression lifted when on Christmas Eve 1223 in Grecio he woke to see physically the birthplace of Christ by forming a Christmas Crib of live animals. As people listened to Francis talk on the Gospel they saw him embracing the baby Jesus.

For Francis creation itself was called to praise God. He urged not only people but animals, plants, rocks and even fire to praise the Lord. He acted to protect animals and wild places.

On Mt Alvernia Francis spent time in prayer and contemplation. During intense prayer he had a vision of the Crucified Christ and experienced the wound of Christ in his body. Francis became a weak and blind man but filled with joy and hope. One of his last acts was to urge peace between the fighting Bishop and Mayor of Assisi by adding additional lines to his song the Canticle of the Creatures. 

Francis died in 1226 surrounded by his brothers and friends at peace with God and the World.

The Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi is the 4th October.

Francis is recognised as the Patron Saint of the Environment, Engineers and Builders, Italy and Paddington Parish.