History of St Francis of Assisi
St Francis of Assisi is the founder of the Franciscan Order, born at Assisi in Umbria, in 1181.
In 1182, Pietro Bernardone returned from a trip to France to find out his wife had given birth to a son. Far from being excited or apologetic because he’d been gone, Pietro was furious because she’d had his new son baptized Giovanni after John the Baptist. The last thing Pietro wanted in his son was a man of God — he wanted a man of business, a cloth merchant like he was, and he especially wanted a son who would reflect his infatuation with France. So he renamed his son Francesco — which is the equivalent of calling him Frenchman.
St Francis of Assisi enjoyed a very rich easy life growing up because of his father’s wealth and the permissiveness of the times. From the beginning everyone — and I mean everyone — loved St Francis of Assisi. He was constantly happy, charming, and a born leader. If he was picky, people excused him. If he was ill, people took care of him. If he was so much of a dreamer he did poorly in school, no one minded. In many ways, he was too easy to like for his own good. No one tried to control him or teach him.
St Francis of Assisi was one of the most venerated religious figures in the history of Christianity. He was the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, more popularly known as the Franciscans. Born sometime in the early 1180s to a prosperous silk merchant in Assisi, he led a very high-spirited life in his early youth; but on receiving a call, he gave up everything to lead a life in poverty. He lived only for 44 years; but within such a short period, he gathered around him thousands of men and women, who gave up everything to follow the path of Christ. For men, he founded the Order of Friars Minor; for women, the Order of Saint Clare; and for the householders, the Third Order of Saint Francis. Around two years before his death, he received the stigmata in religious ecstasy, becoming the first recorded person to do so.
Patron Saint of Animals and Ecology
St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and environment could be viewed as the original Earth Day advocate. St Francis of Assisi’s devotion to God was expressed through his love for all of God’s creation. St. Francis of Assisi cared for the poor and sick, he preached sermons to animals and praised all creatures as brothers and sisters under God. St Francis of Assis’ deep love of God overflowed into love for all God’s creatures—expressed not only in his tender care of lepers and his (unsuccessful) attempt to negotiate peace between Muslims and Christians during the fifth Crusade but also in his prayers of thanksgiving for creation, his sermons preached to animals and his insistence that all creatures are brothers and sisters under God.
Story of St Francis of Assisi
The patron saint of Italy, St Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit, and without a sense of self-importance.
Serious illness brought the young St Francis of Assisi to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi’s youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: “Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy.”
From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, “Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down.” St Francis of Assisi became a totally poor and humble workman.
He must have suspected a deeper meaning to “build up my house.” But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor “nothing” man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father—who was demanding restitution for Francis’ “gifts” to the poor—so that he would be totally free to say, “Our Father in heaven.” He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evoking sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking.
But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: “Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff” (Luke 9:1-3).
St Francis of Assisis’ first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no intention of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church’s unity.
St Francis of Assisi was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade.
During the last years of his relatively short life, he died at 44, St Francis of Assisi was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet, and side.
On his deathbed, St Francis of Assisi said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, “Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death.” He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior’s permission to have his clothes removed when the last hour came in order that he could expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.
St Francis of Assisi and the War
In 1202 war broke between Assisi and Perugia, and St Francis of Assisi eagerly took his place with the cavalry. Little did he know at the time, his experience with war would change him forever.
St Francis of Assisi and the men of Assisi came under heavy attack, and in the face of superior numbers, they took flight. The whole battlefield was soon covered with the bodies of butchered, mutilated men, screaming in agony. Most of the surviving Assisi troops were immediately put to death.
Unskilled and with no combat experience, St Francis of Assisi was quickly captured by enemy soldiers. Dressed like an aristocrat and wearing expensive new armor, he was considered worthy of a decent ransom, and the soldiers decided to spare his life. He and the other wealthy troops were taken as prisoners, led off to a dank underground cell. St Francis of Assisi would spend nearly a year in such miserable conditions — awaiting his father’s payment — during which time he may well have contracted a serious disease. Also during this time, he would later report, he began to receive visions from God.
After a year of negotiations, St Francis’ ransom was accepted, and he was released from prison in 1203. When he came back to Assisi, however, St Francis was a very different man. Upon his return, he was dangerously sick in both mind and body — a battle-fatigued casualty of war.
One day, as legend has it while riding on a horse in the local countryside, St Francis of Assisi encountered a leper. Prior to the war, St Francis of Assisi would have run from the leper, but on this occasion, his behavior was very different. Viewing the leper as a symbol of moral conscience — or as Jesus incognito, according to some religious scholars — he embraced and kissed him, later describing the experience as a feeling of sweetness in his mouth. After this incident, St Francis of Assisi felt indescribable freedom. His earlier lifestyle had lost all of its appeals.
Canonization of St Francis of Assisi
St Francis of Assisis’ embrace of Christ-like poverty was a radical notion at the time. The Christian church was tremendously rich, much like the people heading it, which concerned St Francis of Assisi and many others, who felt that the long-held apostolic ideals had eroded. Francis set out on a mission to restore Jesus Christ’s own, original values to the now-decadent church. With his incredible charisma, he drew thousands of followers to him. They listened to St Francis of Assisis’ sermons and joined in his way of life; his followers became known as Franciscan friars.
Continuously pushing himself in the quest for spiritual perfection, St Francis of Assisi was soon preaching in up to five villages per day, teaching a new kind of emotional and personal Christian religion that everyday people could understand. He even went so far as to preach to animals, which garnered criticism from some and earned him the nickname “God’s fool.” But St Francis of Assisis’ message was spread far and wide, and thousands of people were captivated by what they heard.
St Francis of Assisi died on October 3, 1226, at the age of 44, in Assisi, Italy. Today, St Francis of Assisi has a lasting resonance with millions of followers across the globe. He was canonized 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 honoring his boundless love for animals and nature. In 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose to honor Saint Francis by taking his name, becoming Pope Francis.
Prayer of St Francis of Assisi
Lord make Me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness joy.
O Divine master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved. as to love
For it’s in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born…
To eternal life.
Basilica of St Francis of Assisi
The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi ( Italian: Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi; Latin: Basilica Sancti Francisci Assisiensis) is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor Conventual in Assisi, a town in the Umbria region in central Italy, where Saint Francis of Assisi was born and died. It is a Papal minor basilica and one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy. With its accompanying friary, Sacro Convento, the basilica is a distinctive landmark to those approaching Assisi. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000.