Saint of the Day – 4 October – St Francis of Assisi O.F.M. Religious, Deacon, Confessor
Stigmatist and religious Founder, Apostle of the Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin and of Charity, Preacher, Missionary, Mystic, Miracle-Worker, Co-patron of Italy, founder of the Seraphic Order – the men’s Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of Saint Clare, the Third Order of Saint Francis and the Custody of the Holy Land, as well as being the Founder of the Nativity Crib and Manger as we know it today.
Born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone ( informally calledas Francesco by his Mother) – (1181 at Assisi, Umbria, Italy – 4 October 1226 at Portiuncula, Italy of natural causes). His relics are enshrined in the Basilica built and named for him in Assisi, Italy. St Francis was Canonised on 16 July 1228 by Pope Gregory IX. Patronages – • against dying alone• against fire• animal welfare societies• animals• birds• ecologists, ecology• environment, environmentalism, environmentalists• families• lace makers, lace workers• merchants• needle workers• peace• tapestry workers• zoos• Italy• Colorado• Catholic Action• Franciscan Order• 10 dioceses• 10 cities. Attributes – • apparition of Jesus• Christ child• birds• deer• fish• lamb• skull• stigmata• wolf. In 1224 he received the stigmata during the apparition of Seraphic angels in a religious ecstasy making him the first recorded person in Christian history to bear the wounds of Christ’s Passion. He died during the evening hours of 3 October 1226, while listening to a reading he had requested of Psalm 142 (141). Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
Francis was born in Assisi in 1182, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, Pietro Bernardone, and his wife, Pica. He was baptised Giovanni (John) but soon gained the nickname Francesco because of his father’s close trading links with France.
Francis’ early years were not especially religious. He was a leader among the young men of Assisi, enjoying a good social life, singing and partying. His first biographer, Thomas of Celano, describes him as quite short, with black eyes, hair and beard; he had a long face, with a straight nose and small, upright ears. His arms were short but his hands and fingers slender and long. He had a strong, clear, sweet voice. Francis didn’t want to follow his father into the cloth trade; he wanted to be a knight. So at the age of twenty he joined the forces of Assisi in a minor skirmish with the neighbouring city of Perugia. He was captured and spent a year in a Perugian jail, until his father ransomed him. This became the first of a series of experiences through which God called Francis to the life which he finally embraced.
One of these experiences, at San Damiano, led to a rift with his father. Francis, in response to a voice from the crucifix in this tiny ruined church, began to rebuild churches; when he ran out of money he took cloth from his father’s shop and sold it. His father disowned him before the bishop of Assisi and Francis in his turn stripped off his clothes, returning to his father everything he had received from him and promising that in future he would call only God his Father.
And thus, Francis of Assisi, this poor little man began a journey to astound and inspire the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a mite of self-importance.
Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi’s youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolised his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: “Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy.”
From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, “Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down.” Francis became the totally poor and humble workman.
He must have suspected a deeper meaning to “build up my house.” But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor “nothing” man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up every material thing he had, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis’ “gifts” to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, “Our Father in heaven.”
He was, for a time, considered to be a religious “nut,” begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, bringing sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking.
But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realise that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: “Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff” (see Lk 9:1-3).
Francis’ first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church’s unity.
He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decerned in favour of the latter but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade.
During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44) he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side.
On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, “Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death.” He sang Psalm 141 and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.
On 13 March 2013, upon his election as Pope, Archbishop and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina chose Francis as his papal name in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi, becoming Pope Francis I.
At his first audience on 16 March 2013, Pope Francis told journalists that he had chosen the name in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi and had done so because he was especially concerned for the well-being of the poor. He explained that, as it was becoming clear during the conclave voting that he would be elected the new bishop of Rome, the Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes had embraced him and whispered, “Don’t forget the poor”, which had made Bergoglio think of the saint. Bergoglio had previously expressed his admiration for St Francis, explaining that “He brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He changed history.” Bergoglio’s selection of his papal name is the first time that a pope has been named Francis.