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Amazing Lives of Saints

Saint Francis of Assisi
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Francis was born amidst a blissful atmosphere at Umbria in the year 1181. His fortunate father was Peter Bernadone and his happy mother was Pica. His mother called him John, after the beloved disciple, but his father renamed him Francesco, which means a little frenchman. 

From his boyhood, Francis loved poetry, music and merriment. Belonging to the upper class, with considerable wealth because of his father's business, Francis spent money extravagantly among his friends. Early in youth, his heart and mind had already been captivated by the fascinating adventures of the knights and by the roaming troubadors. 

Thomas de Celano gives us the following description of Francis:

"His figure was beyond the middle height, and well set, but thin and of a very delicate constitution. He had an oval face, dark complexion, black hair, expressive countenance, black brilliant eyes full of mildness and modesty. The peace and innocence of his soul were reflected upon his countenance. To this exterior advantages he joined those qualities which render a young man amiable: a playful wit, a lively imagination, a gentle and generous heart."

When he was 20 years of age, Francis took part in the battle of the Assisians against the Perugians. The Assisians lost and Francis was taken prisoner and stayed for a year in Perugia. Even in prison Francis continued to be as gay and jovial as ever. He told his fellow prisoners that one day the whole world would come to worship him. He was referring to his dreams of future military exploits and victories. When he returned to Assisi, he fell ill and for a while resolve to turn to a better life. But as soon as he recovered, he resumed his former life again.

Pursuing his military ambitions, Francis volunteered to go to Apulia as a cavalier. But when he reached Spoleto he fell ill again. Then the remorse of conscience tormented him and seem to remind him of his resolutions. His soul underwent a real conflict: Was he to follow the worldly amusements of his youth or should he heed the call of a higher and more sublime life? Then he heard a mysterious voice telling him about the vanity of all worldly pursuits. The voice left Francis a new man. Resolved to live as a real child of God, he abandoned his military career and returned to Assisi. For the last time he gave a banquet to his friends. It was on that occasion that Francis announced to them to marry a woman so rich, so noble, so beautiful that no one like her could be found in the world.

This woman whom Francis decided to marry was none other than Lady Poverty. He was enamoured by the beauty of renouncing everything in order to reproduce in himself the perfect image of the poor Jesus. Of this Lady Poverty Francis remained a romantic lover. In the basilica of the Church of Saint Francis in Assisi, one of the frescoes artistically depicts the "holy nuptials of Francis with Lady Poverty." Out of this wedlock were born many children who introduce reforms in society and even within the church.

Francis now began to spend his time in solitude, prayers, and meditations. He began also to conquer himself by making his body which he called "brother ass", subservient to God's directives in serving men. One day, while Francis was riding down Assisi, he saw a leper and was instantly filled with horror. He immediately rode away at full speed, but he had not gone far when he felt some kind of remorse, so he went back to the place where he had seen the leper. He alighted from his horse, leave all his money to the leper and kissed the leper's hands. With that heroic act he wanted to prove to God how true he was in his conversion. 

Later, Francis would go about the city in dirty rags, helping the sick and the poor with all the money he could get from his father but Peter Bernadone, seeing the extravagance of his son and afraid that his property would soon be squandered, took Francis to the bishop to stop him from such a folly. His anger drove him to the extent of demanding restitution for all the money that Francis had spent for alms. When the bishop told Francis to return his father's property, he took off his clothes saying that he was returning all that he had, including his clothes, the only thing he possessed, for he was poor. Then Francis declared:

"Hear ye all and understand. Until now I had told Peter Bernadone my father; henceforth I can boldly say 'Our Father Who art in Heaven', in Whom I have placed all my treasures and all my hopes."

Bishop Guido gave his cloak to the naked Francis and Francis wore it. After having broken all ties with his earthly father and family, he went out to Subasio, with jubilant heart.

Now, Francis was a homeless wanderer, given to prayer, penance, meditation, and service of the poor. He suffered humiliation from his friends and cruelty from brigands. On one occasion, some robbers who took him for a madman, threw him into a ditch. After the robbers had gone, Francis pulled himself up from the knee-deep mud and went about singing God's love songs.

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Francis took upon the task of restoring the church of Saint Damien. He had long started this work with his father's money, but after being disinherited he went along the streets begging for stones. When the church was restored, Francis turned his attention to the sanctuary of Saint Peter's at the entrance to the town of Assisi, which also needed repair. This was followed by the repair of the little shrine of Saint Mary of the Angels in Subasio. Thus by begging Francis was able to rebuild churches. His innocence appeals went straight to the hearts of the people so that they rallied to help him by working with him.

This was symbolic of the great moral and spiritual repair which Francis and his followers were destined to do in the whole Christian church. Pope Innocent III had a dream about Francis. It appeared in the dream that the Basilica of Saint John Lateran was tottering, and he tried in vain to prevent it from falling. A miserable man then came forward and propped it up with his shoulders. This "propping up the falling church" was Francis' great vocation, a task which even the Pope could not do.

When the disciples of Francis reached the number of twelve, they went to Rome to ask for the blessing and approval of the church. They were all dressed in the same habit of the mendicant Friar Minors. Upon seeing them, Pope Innocent III recognized Francis as the man in his dream. The Pope himself appointed Francis the first Minister-General of the Order, raising him to the dignity of a deacon. Out of humility, Francis did not accept the dignity of the priesthood.

The work of Francis expanded and grew like a forest fire. Souls clamoring for God's righteousness and sublime life thronged around him and his friars for guidance and inspiration. From the time they returned from Rome, their preaching ministry and exemplary lives brought about many conversions. At times Francis would go out  with a companion, saying that they would preach, but they would return home without having said any sermon to anyone. Asked if he had forgotten the preaching, Francis would reply that the silent example of their recollection, self-control, prayer and purity was already a preaching. 

Because Francis  loved God unreservedly and uncompromisingly he could joyfully encounter the bitterest crosses with cheerfulness and a smile. That was his "perfect joy". And again it is in this loved of God that he found the source of love for all creatures. To Francis, all creatures of God are his "sisters" and "brothers". He composed that marvelous hymn of "Praise of Creatures", the poetic rhapsody of the soul of Francis, vibrating in tune with God and nature.

After some years, when the Order had grown unwieldy, Francis decided to relinquish his responsibilities as Minister-General. He was now free to spend more time in intimate communion with God. Noteworthy were his great penances, his ecstasies, and the stigmata he received as a reward for his very great love for Christ. The last two years of Francis' life were spent in great  physical pain, cause by his failing health and apparent lost of sight. But he maintained his spiritual joy and cheerfulness even amidst the most excruciating pains. Francis' last directives to his followers were: to love one another, to cherish holy poverty, to obey their superiors and to be obedient to the Pope and to Holy Mother the Church. After giving his farewell message, he took off his garments and put on a hair shirt. On the third of October,1226, at the age of 45, Francis died to receive his eternal reward.