Saint Francis of Assisi - Simplicity, Humility, and Service
Saint Francis of Assisi abandoned a life of luxury for a life devoted to Christianity after reportedly hearing the voice of God, who commanded him to rebuild the Christian church and live in poverty.
Born in Italy in 1181, Saint Francis of Assisi was renowned for drinking and partying in his youth. After fighting in a battle between Assisi and Perugia, Francis was captured and imprisoned for ransom. He spent nearly a year in prison — awaiting his father's payment — and, according to legend, began receiving visions from God. After his release from prison, Francis heard the voice of Christ, who told him to repair the Christian Church and live a life of poverty. Consequently, he abandoned his life of luxury and became a devotee of the faith, his reputation spreading all over the Christian world.
Later in life, Francis reportedly received a vision that left him with the stigmata of Christ — marks resembling the wounds Jesus Christ suffered when he was crucified — making Francis the first person to receive such holy wounds. He was canonised as a saint on July 16, 1228. During his life he also developed a deep love of nature and animals and is known as the patron saint of the environment and animals; his life and words have had a lasting resonance with millions of followers across the globe. Each October, many animals the world over are blessed on his feast day.
Francis considered all nature as the mirror of God and as so many steps to God. He called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters,” and, in the most endearing stories about him, preached to the birds and persuaded a wolf to stop attacking the people of the town of Gubbio and their livestock if the townspeople agreed to feed the wolf. In his “Canticle of the Creatures” (less properly called by such names as the “Praises of Creatures” or the “Canticle of the Sun”), he referred to “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon,” the wind and water, and even “Sister Death.” He nicknamed his long and painful illnesses his “sisters,” and he begged pardon of “Brother Ass the body” for having unduly burdened him with his penances. Above all, his deep sense of brotherhood under God embraced his fellow men, for “he considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died.”
Determined to bring the Gospel to all God’s creatures, Francis, on several occasions, sought to take his message out of Italy. In the late spring of 1212, he set out for the Holy Land to preach to the Muslims but was shipwrecked on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea and had to return. A year or two later, sickness forced him to abandon a journey to the Muslims in Spain. In 1217 he proposed to go to France, but the future Pope Gregory IX, Cardinal Ugolino of Segni, an early and important supporter of the order, advised Francis that he was needed more in Italy. In 1219 he did go to Egypt, where the crusaders were besieging Damietta. He went into the Muslim camp and preached to the Sultan al-Kāmil, who was impressed by him and gave him permission (it is said) to visit the sacred places in the Holy Land.
Years of poverty and wandering had made Francis ill. When he began to go blind, the pope ordered that his eyes be operated on. This meant cauterizing his face with a hot iron. Francis spoke to "Brother Fire": "Brother Fire, the Most High has made you strong and beautiful and useful. Be courteous to me now in this hour, for I have always loved you, and temper your heat so that I can endure it." And Francis reported that Brother Fire had been so kind that he felt nothing at all.
How did Francis respond to blindness and suffering? That was when he wrote his beautiful Canticle of the Sun that expresses his brotherhood with creation in praising God.
Francis never recovered from this illness. He died on October 4, 1226 at the age of 45. Francis is considered the founder of all Franciscan orders and the patron saint of ecologists and merchants.
Francis has a lasting resonance with millions of followers across the globe. He was canonised as a saint just two years after his death, on July 16, 1228, by his former protector, Pope Gregory IX. Today, Saint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint for ecologists — a title honouring his boundless love for animals and nature. In 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose to honour Saint Francis by taking his name, becoming Pope Francis.
Saint Francis chose to take the Gospel literally and led a life of poverty in the name of the Lord. By determining what was right for his own relationship with God, Saint Francis inspired others and spread the Word throughout the world. “If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.” – Saint Francis of Assisi
St. Francis felt compassion for everyone, from lepers to birds. He simply recognised that our Father in heaven loves everything he has made, and it only makes sense that we should too. If we have no compassion, it is a sign that we do not truly possesses the love of Christ.
Like St. Francis, let’s show compassion to those we encounter, treating them as if they were Christ himself. Let’s look beyond ourselves and seek to comfort those who are suffering, whether it be physically or emotionally.
He was a man who was born in wealth and privilege, and who once dreamed of glory on the battlefield, but who ended up falling in love with God instead.
Francis had discovered a God who loved him, despite his former way of life. Now, Francis wanted to respond to that love and be close to God. The only way this could happen, Francis knew, was through prayer. Francis learned to pray through praying. As a young man very active in his social circle and learning the family trade as an aspiring cloth merchant, Francis had little time or inclination to silence and interior recollection. These were skills that Francis had to learn through dogged perseverance. Upon his conversion from his former way of life, Francis began to spend long periods in solitude in the fields of Assisi. He would withdraw into isolated caves to be alone with God. Francis was so faithful to prayer that one biographer would write of him at the end of his life: “Francis did not so much pray as he became a prayer.” Like St. Francis, God is calling each one of us to a deep and personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. This relationship is realised, grows and finds its nourishment in prayer. At the beginning prayer is a struggle. In our world of instant downloads and ever-present technology, silence can seem scary. Yet, it is through persevering in silence that we will discover the God of love.
Though he was rejected by many, St. Francis did not abandon the radical witness of his love of God and love of neighbour. Today, we can learn from St. Francis and work to live our lives in such a way that even those who disagree with us will see our love for God and love for the poor, and the joy that comes from living the Gospel.
If we are to transform the world around us, we must learn from St. Francis and dedicate ourselves to prayer, immersing ourselves in the presence of the Lord so that we can bring His presence into the world. St. Francis heard the Lord’s call in prayer. May we all strive to hear the call of the Lord in our own lives, and answer it as willingly as St. Francis did.