St. Francis of Assisi
Feast Day: October 4
Died: October 3, 1226
Patron Saint of: Catholic Action, Ecologists, Animals, Merchants, Italy
Founder of the Franciscan Order
Saint Francis of Assisi was given the name John at baptism, but changed to Francis at the return of his father, Peter Bernadone, a wealthy merchant. He spent his youth dreaming of glory, associating with nobles and throwing extravagant parties. He came to be known as the "King of Feasts". He dreamed of becoming a knight, and went off to war, and was captured. He went back to his old ways after being released, but fell seriously ill. It was a different Francis that went back to fight in the war. One night, he heard God's voice calling him, and he abandoned the army and his dreams of glory, returning to Assisi. His father was furious with him. Francis was scorned by those who once loved him, and he spent his days in prayer in the caves on Mount Subasio. He came to appreciate the beauty of God's creation.
One day, Francis heard the bell of a leper. He had been repulsed by lepers so much in the past that if heard a leper's bell 2 miles away, he would turn his horse around. But Francis saw him now as another of God's creations, and embraced the man. When he looked back, the leper had disappeared.
Francis went to the broken down church of San Damiano to pray one day, and the crucifix spoke to him, saying, "Francis, my church is falling into ruin. I want you to rebuild it for me." Francis originally took this to mean that he was called to fix broken down churches. He tried to sell his father's goods to earn money for supplies. When his father learned of this, he was very angry and brought him before the bishop. He demanded that he return everything he had taken from his father. Francis not only gave back the goods he had taken, but took off all his clothes and gave them to his father as well. He turns to begging for stones for the churches. He has abandoned all earthly possessions.
Soon, people start to follow Francis. He calls his group the Friars Minor, or Little Brothers. He realized he was called to rebuild the church not with stones, but with people. He goes to the Pope for approval of the order. The Pope originally says no, but later has a dream where a church was falling, but Francis put it back together. His order is approved.
Clare Schifi tells Francis that she wants to follow him in his life of holy poverty, and the Order of Poor Clares is started. Eventually a third order is started for married people. Francis becomes known for his preaching. There is a very famous story where Francis preaches to the birds when the people would not listen to him. He goes off to the Holy Land and tries to convert the Sultan, while the Crusades are raging. The sultan wants to convert but fears what his people would do to him; he converted at the end of his life. Francis and his companions are able to travel through the Holy Land, seeing Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem.
After Francis returns, he is troubled about the direction the order is taking. He goes off to pray and reflect, and there receives the stigmata, seeing he has to accept suffering as Christ did. He falls ill, and dies on October 3rd, 1226. A flock of birds form a cross in the sky as final tribute. The Franciscans are one of the largest orders in the world today.
Next Saint: St. Maximillian Kolbe
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