(Jesus said) “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”
St. Matthew 10.7-13
Giovanni Bernadone was born in Assisi in Italy in 1182, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. Baptized Giovanni (John), soon after his birth he was called Francesco (“French”) because of his father’s travels in France. Since then, the name Francis — almost unknown before, and due almost entirely to the popularity St. Francis eventually enjoyed — has become a common name.
After working in his father’s business, and after a brief foray as a knight, Francis returned home and underwent a complete change of heart. Meeting a leper, he exchanged his fine clothes for rags, and in 1206 made a pilgrimage to Rome. He rebuilt churches, broke off relations with his father, and finally renounced his possessions altogether.
On the morning of St. Matthias’ Day, 1209, Francis went to chapel and heard the Gospel for the day (the scripture text quoted above). He accepted these words as a divine revelation for himself, and as he left the church he took off his shoes, staff, and cloak, replaced his belt with a piece of rope over his long brown peasant’s smock, and began his mission. Ten years later this garb was the “uniform” of five thousand men.
St. Francis gathered around him a band of men who would follow Jesus’ life of poverty, preaching by word and example the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. This was a new vision of the Christian life, one which combined complete lack of earthly possessions and a rigorous denial of self, with a joyful, comradely fellowship, strong sense of humor, and gladness in God’s creation. In 1210, Francis obtained permission from the Pope for his preaching and way of life, thus beginning the Order of Franciscan Friars.
St. Francis enjoyed a legendary relationship with animals, and stories about his experiences with them abound. Perhaps the best known is his deal with the wolf that terrorized an Italian town, when St. Francis convinced the townsfolk to feed the animal regularly in exchange for its friendship. It is also said that St. Francis loved animals so much that he regularly bought captured birds and freed them. It has become traditional in many parishes (including ours) to celebrate a service of “Blessing of the Animals” on a day in close proximity to the day given in the church calendar to St. Francis (October 4).
In the final years of his life, St. Francis withdrew more to himself and turned to an inner mystical devotion. On Holy Cross Day (September 14) of 1224, during a time of solitary devotions, he received the stigmata (the print of the nails and wound in his side experienced by Christ during His Passion). These wounds troubled him until his death. St. Francis never complained, though, finding joy in experiencing the sufferings of his Lord.
St. Francis died on October 4, 1226, in a hut near the chapel where he had first been inspired to carry out his mission. Within two years’ time he was recognized formally as a saint. His humility, generosity, love of nature, and his simple and unaffected devotion to God have combined to make him one of the most cherished of all the saints.
from Festivals and Commemorations
by Phillip Pfatteicher
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we 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.
Attributed to St. Francis
— Pastor Stickley