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St Francis Of Assisi


At the end of the 11th Century one might have asked whether any good could come out of Assisi torn as it was by factions within and rivalry without, especially against near by Perugia. But at the end of the 13th Century people of many nations could but wonder at the change God had worked not only in that town but throughout Europe through St Francis and his followers.

Francis was the first of two sons of Lady Pica and Peter Bernardone. That son born of a great merchant of Assisi baptized as John in the absence of his father was then renamed Francis by him on his return. The first biographer of St Francis, Thomas of Celano says that Francis proved more a gay blade than the son of a merchant, who wasted the first twenty five years of his life in ambitious dreams. God intervened in his life through his imprisonment in Perugia and later again through a dream at Spoleto. He became aware of the Master who requires his loyal service. Little by little he came to know what the Lord wanted of him: victory over self, abandonment of family and friends, money and worldly honor, a life centered on God alone.

His mission was revealed to him in the words of Christ Crucified: "Francis, repair my house which, as you see, is completely in ruins". Initially he occupied himself in repairing the dilapidated churches. However, it did not take long for him to understand the meaning of this message. He was called to renew the Church of Christ. Not long after that he left his family behind and began an evangelical way of life calling himself ’herald of the great king’. The intervening years had indeed been blessed by the Lord. Other men of Assisi and the neighbouring towns were drawn to follow Francis and leave all for Christ. They were soon joined by others from all parts of Italy and later from almost the whole of Europe. They were simple men fired by the spirit of the Gospel calling people to a change of heart.

When Francis’ first followers began to gather round him, they found in him the only norm of life they needed, for in imitating him they were imitating Christ and that was the way of life that would lead them to union with Christ. But as the number grew; he saw that their way of life would have to be more precisely determined. Accordingly he set down in words what their life should be. That was to be ’Rule and life’ of the First Order of Francis.

With Clare of Assisi who was fascinated by Francis’ way of life and drawn towards dedication of her life to Christ the Second Order began. Many young women joined Clare and followed the Franciscan ideal in a contemplative way of life. To them too Francis gave a norm of life.

Francis’ deep down desire was martyrdom. So he went to the Holy Land where the Crusades were battling with the Muslims for the sake of the Holy Land. But the Lord did not grant him that grace. Instead in the year 1224 while he was praying on Mount La Verna he was signed with the wounds of Christ by which he bore the pain of the Crucifixion until his death. He became a living martyr carrying in his body the marks of Christ that united him to his Master who bore the Cross for him.

A few days before he died he dictated his Testament to Bro. Leo, a precious document in which he recalls and celebrates the graces given him by the Lord from his conversion to his last days.

He died on October 3, 1226 welcoming Sister Death. Less than two years later on July 16, 1228 he was canonized by Pope Gregory IX. Francis is regarded as the herald of the coming of God’s world. That world was for him a place of pilgrimage. He saw the Creator in his creatures. Pope John Paul II designated him as the Patron of Ecologists on November 29, 1979.

In Francis, we find a man for whom God’s word became a lamp for his steps and a light for his path as he strove to follow the teachings and the very footprints of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him and his followers an evangelical reawakening began in the Church.

The biographers of St Francis say that he renewed the face of the earth through the triple Orders he founded. The origin of the Third Order was in the penitential movement that predated St Francis by six hundred years. Members of this movement committed themselves to a life of continual conversion to Gospel ideals by a programme of public and private acts of prayer and penance. These penitents asked for specific spiritual direction from Francis to whom he gave guidelines. These penitents became the foundation of the third form of Franciscan gospel life, the Third Order.