Today October 4th, is the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, patron of animals, birds, conservationists and naturalists. He was born in 1281, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. As a young man he fought in the war between Perugia and Assisi. He was taken prisoner and became very ill. He returned home and was accused of cowardice. From a very early age he showed a real concern for the poor and sick. Soon after his return from the war, he heard a voice which seemed to come from the crucifix in the ruined church of San Damiano. It said: “Go and repair my house which you see is falling down.”
Francis set about the task, having sold some of his father’s cloth to finance the project. This lead to a prolonged battle with his father which was only resolved when Francis dramatically renounced his inheritance, even returning the clothes he was wearing. The bishop of Assisi provided him with some simple garments and Francis began his new life.
He took literally the rule in St Matthew’s Gospel that Christ’s apostles should own nothing. Living alone, in great poverty, Francis cared for lepers and rebuilt the church, begging from townspeople. Later, seven men joined him and they lived a communal life at the Portiuncula in Assisi, near a leper colony. Sometimes they went out on preaching tours. Gradually they earned the respect of the community. One of the things which distinguished them from other poor preachers was their respect for and obedience to Church authorities, and their doctrinal orthodoxy.
By 1220, there were more than 5,000 friars, and the Church wanted them to develop rules and get organised. Francis drew up another Rule and instructions for lay people who wished to follow the Franciscan ideal in their lives.
In his later years, while he held no official position in the order, some of the most famous incidents of his life took place: stories of his close rapport with animals, preaching to the birds, taming the wolf at Gubbio, the introduction of the Christmas crib at Grecchio, the Canticle of the Sun, and the impression of the Stigmata at Mount La Verna, which he kept secret until his death.
A lifelong friend was St Clare, who first heard him preach when she was just 18. She founded the order of Poor Clares by San Damiano in Assisi.
Francis died when he was only 45, after a miserable illness in which he went blind. He was canonised in 1228 and was originally buried in the Church of St Giorgio. Later his remains were moved twice to ornate tombs, but eventually in 1932 he was reburied in a very simple one.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon
“Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for they will be crowned.”
― St. Francis of Assisi