Franciscan Saints  


4th October

 Our Holy Father St. Francis

Confessor and Founder of the Three Orders

Francis was the son of Peter Bernardone, a wealthy merchant of Assisi. Peter intended that his first-born should follow him in his career. But Francis was in no way avaricious as was his father. Rather, he was very generous and in gay good humor readily disposed of anything at his command.  

Our Lord, whose delight it is to show mercy to the merciful, intended too tear Francis away from the danger of worldly pleasures and draw him to Himself. He permitted Francis to become seriously ill. As Francis lay in the solitude of the sick chamber, exhausted in body, his soul was being prepared by God for higher things. He felt a great longing for perfection, and heroic self-conquest was needed as a foundation for that edifice.  

When Francis recovered his health, he was one day crossing the plain of Assisi on horseback, when he met a leper. The unexpected sight filled him with horror, and he was minded to turn back. But he remembered his resolution, dismounted, and hastened to kiss the hand of the leper and then pressed on alms into it. As he remounted and turned to salute the leper once more, there was no one to be seen anywhere on the plain. Seemingly Christ has appeared to him in the form of a leper.  

Francis so loved the poor that he frequently associated with them. Complying with a divine command, he also begged stones to repair three ruined churches. His father was enraged at the strange conduct, and had his son brought before the bishop of Assisi. There Francis returned to his father not only the money he had but the clothes he wore, saying: "Now I can truly say, Our Father, who art in heaven." The bishop gave him an old gardener's cloak, on the back of which Francis drew a cross with a piece of white chalk. He now begged our Lord to make known to him His will regarding the future.  

Soon after, Francis was at holy Mass in the Portiuncula. Hearing the Gospel in which our Lord commissions His apostles to carry about with them neither gold, nor silver, nor two coats, nor shoes, the heart of Francis was filled with joy, for he recognized in it the will of God regarding his own life. In a coarse penitential garb, girded with a cord, without shoes, he entered upon a life of complete poverty and began to preach penance. This occurred in the year 1208. Francis was then about 26 years old.  

Several companions soon joined him. When there were eleven in number, he went with them to Rome, where Pope Innocent III gave his approval to the new order. They lived in the severest poverty and in brotherly harmony, preaching penance to the people both by their example and by their words. The holy founder called them Friars Minor, so that they might always regard the virtue of humility as the foundation of perfection. He himself was so humble that, when the people proclaimed him a saint, he called himself the greatest sinner. "For," he said, "if God had given the greatest criminal the graces He has given me, he would have used them to better advantage than I have done."  

The order grew rapidly. In 1219, at the renowned Chapter of the Mats, more than 5,000 brethren were gathered together. As Christ sent His apostles to preach the Gospel to all nations, so Francis sent out his brethren. He himself courageously faced the Sultan of Egypt and announced to him that salvation could be found only in Christ.   In order to open the way of perfection for all who wished to imitate his life, Francis established a Second Order headed by St. Clare, and a Third Order, for people of both sexes living in the world. His love for souls inspired him to labor for all his fellowmen.  

Still, his desire to be more intimately united with God caused him to retire again and again to a solitary place to fast and pray. He was consumed with ever increasing love for the highest and greatest Good. "In the beauty of things," says St. Bonaventure, "he saw the Author of all beauty, and followed in the footsteps of his Beloved, who has imprinted His image on all created things." Drunk with love, he could call upon creatures to extol the Creator with him, and the birds joined him in singing the praises of God.  

It was above all the passion and death of Christ on the Cross that filled his heart with love of his Saviour, and he strove to become as similar to the object of his love as possible. Two years before his death, on Mount La Verna, the crucified Saviour appeared to Francis in the form of a seraph and impressed on his body the marks of the five sacred wounds.  

Francis knew in advance the day of his death. Painful suffering preceded it, but Francis thanked God for it and declared himself ready to suffer a hundred times more if God so willed.   Prepared by all the consolations of Holy Church, and lying on the bare ground in imitation of his Saviour's death on the cross, Francis passed to his heavenly home on October 3, 1226.

 Prayer of the church

O God, who didst enrich Thy Church through the merits of our

holy Father St. Francis and the establishment of a new congregation,

grant us the grace to imitate him in despising the things of this world

and to merit in eternity to share the heavenly gifts. 

Through the same Christ Our Lord  Who liveth and reigneth
with Thee and the Holy Spirit,  One God, now and forever.  Amen

Habig, Marion A., O.F.M., 1959, ed., The Franciscan book of Saints, Franciscan Herald press, Chicago, Illinois

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