Faithful Heroes: St. Francis of Assisi

 

Saint Francis of Assisi founded the Order of Frairs Minor, Order of Saint Clare, Third Order of Saint Francis and the Custody of the Holy Land. He is one of the most revered religious figures in history.

earliest said surviving image of Saint Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi was born between 1181-1182 to Pietro di Bernardone and Pica de Bourlemont. He was one of seven children the couple had.

He was baptized as Giovanni, but after his father returned from a trip to Assisi, he began calling his son Francesco, which means the Frenchman.

He was raised as a wealthy young man and became a soldier and eventually knighted. He even spent a year in captivity.

In 1202, he went off to war, but a vision directed him back to Assisi. He prayed about what to do next. Which eventually led to “he lost his taste for his worldly life”.

In 1204, he had a serious illness which is said to lead to a spiritual crisis.

He eventually went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he begged with the poor at St. Peter’s Basilica. This led him to begin to live a life of poverty.

Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy by Jusepe de Ribera, (1639)

He began nursing the lepers and those in the lazar houses near Assisi. He continued to give to the poor and turn from the life of richness in which he was raised.

His father attempted to change his mind and Francis renounced his father in public, laying aside his garments, and going to live as a beggar on the street. “Up to today I called you ‘father,'” he said to him, “but now I can say in all honesty, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.'” He walked out of the cathedral to become a hermit—to “be alone in solitude and silence,” a biographer noted, “to hear the secrets which God could reveal to him.”

Francis is said to have received a mystical vision of Christ, which he was told: “Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”

House St. Francis lived in when he was young

After hearing a sermon based on Matthew 10:9, on February 24, 1209, Francis devoted himself to a life of poverty.

Francis’ preaching to ordinary people was unusual since he had no license to do so.

He began to attract followers and they went to Rome to seek permission from the pope to found a new religious order. His order was authorized by Pope Innocent III in 1210. The new order grew quickly and he founded the Order of Poor Clares.

He longed to take his message outside of Italy, but it was not without trial. He was shipwrecked in 1212 when he set out for Jerusalem. Illness forced him to turn back on a trip from Morocco.

Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata, El Greco 1585 until 1590

He is said to even preach to the birds. He tamed a wolf and protected the townspeople from being eaten by the beast by telling them to feed the animal.

In 1213, he was given the mountain of La Verna as a gift. This become one of his favorite retreats for prayer.

In 1219, he visited with the Sultan of Egypt. No one knows how the visit went but a Franciscan Order has been present in the Holy Land since 1217.

Francis is said to receive a vision on or around September 14, 1224, in which he received the stigmata {a mark, sore or sensation on the body corresponding with the crucifixion wounds of Jesus}. One of his colleagues, Brother Leo, wrote the following account: “Suddenly he saw a vision of a seraph, a six-winged angel on a cross. This angel gave him the gift of the five wounds of Christ.”

The care he received did not heal him.

Saint Francis in Meditation, oil painting by Francisco de Zurbarán (1639) Saint Francis of Assisi

He was brought back to his home, where he died on October 3, 1226, while singing Psalm 141-2. He was forty-four when he died.

On July 16, 1228, Pope Gregory IX, a friend of Saint Francis, pronounced him a saint. The next day, the Pope laid the foundation stone for the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi. Francis was buried there on May 25, 1230.

When Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was chosen Pope in 2013, he chose Pope Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. He explained ““He brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He changed history.” This is the first time a pope had been named Francis.

Francis of Assisi embraced the life and teachings of Christ, forsaking everything else and embracing a life of poverty, which is why he is a Faithful Hero.

 

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