Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) was the son of a noble woman and rich merchant and is considered the founder of all Franciscan orders.

Feast Day: 4 October

When the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope in 2013 he explained that his friend Cardinal Hummes hugged and kissed him and whispered in his ear “Don’t forget the poor.” Acting on these words, the newly installed Pope chose ‘Francis’ as his papal name, in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi. Our Pope described Saint Francis as “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.”

The man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation

Saint Francis of Assisi lived from 1181-1226 and is considered the founder of all Franciscan orders. Francis was the son of a noble woman and rich merchant and grew up aspiring to be a knight, desiring the respect and honour which came with the prestigious position.

Francis was an incredibly enthusiastic and popular person. He was captured and imprisoned for almost a whole year when he embarked on his first war, but this didn’t faze him and he continued to live a lavish and fun-filled life when he was released and returned home.

It wasn’t until Francis of Assisi was journeying to join another war that he had a change of heart. He had a vision and was told by God to return home and seek another path. Francis wasn’t received warmly when he arrived home. He was shunned by the people who mocked him for his ‘cowardice’. His father who had kitted him out in new, expensive armour was particularly distressed, especially when Francis rejected his contingency plan of having him join him in the family business. For Francis, whom had always craved other people’s admiration and affirmation, this was undoubtedly a very difficult and humiliating time for him.

Francis took to wandering the countryside and spending time in prayer. A pivotal moment in his life was when he encountered a leper on one of his walks. Francis, who had always been terrified of such people, priding himself on his health, looks and strength, fell to his knees and kissed the man. He was filled with utter joy when the leper returned his kiss, considering himself as having passed a test set by God.

On another occasion Francis of Assisi came across an old San Damiano cross in the ruins of a church. He felt Christ on the cross was calling him to rebuild His church and so he set about restoring what lay in front of him. Francis exchanged his rich clothes for rags and rejected his family and wealth, exclaiming that his only father was “Our Father who art in Heaven.” He joyfully went about begging for food and for the materials he needed to restore the church. He continued to grow in faith, fervently repenting of his sins and resolving to authentically live the Gospel.

What I love about St Francis is his unceasing joy and enthusiasm. His extreme love for Christ and his determination to live the Gospel authentically truly inspires me.

People began to feel drawn to Francis. They were intrigued by this man who opted to live such a simple, self-deprived life and by how joyful he was. They were also inspired by the truth he spoke. It wasn’t long before people started to leave their homes and possessions to join him. It gradually became clear to Francis that Christ’s instructions for him to rebuild His church stretched to more than the physical remains of the building Francis had stumbled across. As people flocked to him he realised he had unintentionally formed an order. He journeyed to Rome to seek an audience with Pope Innocent III who had it authorised once he’d gotten over the shock of Francis’ poor, bedraggled appearance.

Francis didn’t want to have authority over people as it contradicted his desire to be poor and own nothing. However, as the order grew the people needed guidance.  Jesus had told His disciples to sell all they had and give to the poor, to take nothing for the journey and to take up their cross daily. This then became their rule of life and Francis encouraged all to live by it. Though people were often initially weary of this group of poverty stricken religious, they were soon converted after seeing them living the Gospel so authentically and joyfully.

Francis loved the whole of creation. He was known for taking great joy in animals and nature and would often praise the beauty that surrounded him. He was a man of action and lead with his heart which often resulted in him acting impulsively. This could sometimes get him in trouble but he would always correct his mistakes as spontaneously as he made them.

Francis lived an incredible life following Christ. He marched into war zones preaching peace, inspired and brought masses of people to Jesus and towards the end of his life underwent great pain and illness which eventually left him blind and too weak to walk. All this he went through remaining loving and joyful throughout. His close and loyal friend St Clare cared for Francis as he became fatally ill until he eventually died at the age of 45, surrounded by his brothers in Christ.

Why Saint Francis of Assisi is important

A reflection from someone in our young Catholic community

What I love about St Francis is his unceasing joy and enthusiasm. His extreme love for Christ and his determination to live the Gospel authentically truly inspires me. I feel so liberated when I read about his embracement of poverty and how he abandons himself to God, trusting Him with his life so completely and utterly. I love how he is so genuinely apologetic and quick to make amends when he makes a mistake. His selflessness and love for neighbour and Christ is a great example of how we can live out the first two commandments our Lord gave us.

A prayer

Let me close with my favourite prayer written by St Francis of Assisi. We often sing it as a hymn at church but the first time I really prayed it was when I was volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity who recite it every day. It is a beautiful prayer and my aspiration is to live it daily.

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 is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.