Saint of the Day – 4 October – St Francis of Assisi OFM (c 1181–1226)- Founder of the Franciscan Order, Confessor of the Faith, Stigmatist. Francis set out to imitate Christ and literally carry out His work. This is vital in understanding Francis’ character, his affinity for the Eucharist and respect for the priests who carried out the sacrament. He preached: “Your God is of your flesh, He lives in your nearest neighbour, in every man.”
He and his followers celebrated and even venerated poverty, which was so central to his character that in his last written work, the Testament, he said, that absolute personal and corporate poverty was the essential lifestyle for the members of his order.
St Francis of Assisi was the living embodiment of Jesus Christ. He left home, riches and family to be with the poor and the destitute. In all creation he saw the image of God. In imitating Jesus Christ, his self-denial led to the foundation of orders and movements of evangelical poverty. Not to mention, his love was so total that – when he had nothing left to give – but gave more, he received the stigmata.
St Francis was the son of a cloth merchant. His worldly successes culminated in a career as a soldier. While preparing for a second campaign, St Francis received a vision. The moment was life-changing in that he realised he had been called apart. Climbing to the “Mount Tabor” of prayer to discern the will of God, he received another prompting; whereupon the once affluent man began to imitate the poor so that he might preach to them. When, at last, he took his father’s cloth to sell for alms that the Church of San Damiano may be restored, his father took him to court for relieving him of his possessions. In that moment, in the presence of the Bishop, St Francis went all in; doubling down on his mission by stripping off his garments and declaring that now he had no possessions.
Fully committed to imitating Jesus by administering to them exactly as He had done, St Francis preached to the poor – going barefoot and quite literally “(taking) no gold, nor silver, nor money in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff…” Submitting to papal authority since Tradition was handed to the Apostles by Jesus, St Francis encountered an obstruction in Pope Innocent III but the latter gave consent for St Francis’ Order after seeing, in a dream, St Francis holding up the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano. The rule of poverty and preaching Friars raised up altars where churches once lay abandoned. The order of the Poor Clares and Franciscan lay movements, also stemmed from St Francis’ apostolate. He refined his rule to include complete poverty and self-denial to live and be with Christ.
St Francis’ missions even brought him to Egypt, where an audience with the Sultan during the Crusades resulted in the Franciscan order gaining privileged access to Jerusalem. St Francis was a tireless worker; practicing prayer, penance, mortification and works to the extreme that Christ would go. Jesus fell asleep in the stern of a boat while the storm was raging – so exhausted was He. Then in 1224, while preparing for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, St Francis asked in prayer how to best please God. In that moment, as recorded by St Francis’ biographers and those he was with, he saw a vision of a man coming down from heaven, with 2 wings above his head, 2 outstretched in fligh, and 2 covering his body; whose face was beautiful beyond earthly description and who smiled gently upon St Francis; making him see, that not in bodily martyrdom but in mind and heart he should conform to Christ. The brilliance of that vision never left St. Francis. Brimming with life, he received the stigmata.
At the time St Francis received the stigmata, he was feeble and blind. He sought to give more when he had absolutely nothing. Honouring him by not creating needs for ourselves, being humbled by others and bearing it for Christ, rejecting hedonism and conforming our will and intellect to that of the Divine, is how we can celebrate this mystic who forever rejoices by the side of and in-step with Jesus Christ.
On 18 June 1939, Pope Pius XII named Francis a joint Patron Saint of Italy along with Saint Catherine of Siena with the apostolic letter “Licet Commissa.”
St Francis is the patron of animals, merchants and ecology. He is also considered the patron saint against dying alone; patron saint against fire; patron saint of the Franciscan Order and Catholic Action; patron saint of families, peace, and needleworkers. He is the patron saint of many dioceses and other locations around the world, including – Italy; San Pawl il-Bahar, Malta; Freising, Germany; Lancaster, England; Kottapuram, India; San Francisco de Malabon, Philippines (General Trias City); San Francisco, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Colorado; Salina, Kansas; Metuchen, New Jersey and Quibdó, Colombia.