Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace gladly to renounce the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfect joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Today is the feast day of an amazing Christian beloved all over the world by people from all religious beliefs. You might know it as the day you get your pets blessed but the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi was so much more than his love for animals. He was very passionate about helping the poor. He was spoiled by his wealthy family as a child and was well known for his bright clothing, charm, drinking, womanizing, and partying. While he was disillusioned with the actions of the world around him from a young age it wasn’t until an illness at the age of twenty-three that he started his conversion experience. Despite repeated threats and beatings from his father, Francis decided to follow the instructions given to him by Christ in a vision while on a forty day fast. The Icon of the Christ Crucified said to him “Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” After devoting his life to Christ he was further changed by a sermon on Matthew 10: 7-10 which states
As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food.
With this charge in hand, Francis went out in the world to do just that. He chose to never be ordained and created a community withs others attempting to live the same way. It was very unusual for members of the laity to preach to an audience, so in 1209 he sought an audience with the pope to get his permission to become an order of the church. On April 16, 1210 Pope Innocent III officially founded the Franciscan Order. Shortly before the founding of the order St. Clare of Assisi heard Francis preach and became deeply moved by the Franciscan message. So on Palm Sunday 1211 Francis created the Order of Poor Clare’s, an order for women interested in the Franciscan way. Taking a vow of poverty was very radical considering how rich the church and her leaders were. So having large numbers of followers, including noblemen, who gave away all their possessions to be Franciscan was considered mad. For laity and clergy who were unable to leave their homes he created Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance. These men and women did not withdraw from the world or take vows but integrated the Franciscan way into their daily lives.
Some famous things he is known for include going to Egypt to attempt to convert the Sultan and end The Crusades. The details of the visit are not known but he was allowed to live which is a indicator of the power he had with people. In 1220 Francis became famous for creating and displaying the first crèche, or nativity scene. He used live animals so that people could engage all their senses, especially sight, in their understanding of the birth of Jesus. He is also considered the first Italian poet by literary critics. He felt so strongly about the laity being able to pray in their own language that he often wrote in languages other than Latin which was not done in the church. He is also the first person to receive the stigmata. It is said that during a forty-day fast in preparation for Michaelmas, Francis had a vision on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and as a result of he received the stigmata.
As his health began to fail in 1226, he travelled to Siena, Cortona, and Nocera to receive care but to no avail. Realizing that his life was nearing its end, he returned to the Porziuncola, the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, the place where the order began. He spent his last days dictating his spiritual testament. He died on the evening of October 3, 1226, singing Psalm 142 found here :
On July 16, 1228, he was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX. He is the patron saint of animals, the environment, and on June 18, 1939, Pope Pius XII named him one of the two patron saints of Italy (with Catherine of Siena).
One way you might have learned more about his way of life recently is the new pope named himself Pope Francis after this saint. The story of how he came to this name is quite endearing. Francis said he was comforted by his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as it appeared the voting was favouring him and it seemed “a bit dangerous” that he would reach the two-thirds necessary to be elected. “He hugged me. He kissed me. He said don’t forget about the poor,” Francis recalled. “And that’s how in my heart came the name Francis of Assisi.” Though he is a member of the Society of Jesus, commonly called Jesuits, who focus more on evangelization through education he also took vows or poverty, chastity, and obedience to the order and the pope. He has taken his vow of poverty very seriously and shows that as pope by refusing the “luxuries” afforded to the position. His most recent example of this is today he visited Assisi where his first stop was the Serafico Institute, a religious charitable institution in Assisi, Italy, that treats seriously disabled children where he greeted all 100 children individually. This is just one in a string of actions exhibited by the pope to show his commitment to the poor and marginalized.
If you would like more information on St. Francis go here. He has a lots of famous quotes but some of my favorites are below, as well as the Prayer of St Francis which was not written by him but is beautiful and portrays how he lived his life.