Story of St. Francis
Although Francis received an excellent education; learning both French and Latin at the school/church of St. George, he was disillusioned and rebellious towards his Father, and his business. Francis often daydreamed of grandiose adventures as a knight in battle. In 1201, at the age of 20, he joined a military expedition against Perugia but unfortunately at the battle of Collestrada he was captured and imprisoned for a year in the dungeons of Perugia.
While imprisoned, he contracted Malaria and became quite ill. It is at this stage in young Francis life that he first began to feel the longing call of Our Lord. His father eventually agreed to the ransom that would release his son from prison. Once he recovered from his bout with malaria, he again resumed his life of socializing, singing and dancing in the streets.
In 1205 the desire for knighthood overcame him once again and he left for Puglia to join the army of Gautier de Brienne. Along the way, near Spoleto, Francis had a vision advising him to return to Assisi. Upon his return, Francis became a different man; no longer did the joy of singing and being carefree with others capture his heart. Instead, he slowly began a conversion towards God and began having thoughts of love for Lady Poverty.
He began spending more and more time alone in prayer. During this time of conversion, he saw less and less of his companions. One day while praying in the small country chapel of San Damiano he experienced a mystical sensation; the crucifix began speaking to him and three times repeated, Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.
Francis took this vision quite literally and together with the priest of the small chapel of San Damiano, sold his own horse and some of his Fathers merchandise to buy bricks and mortar for the repairs needed on this little run-down church. When his Father found out that Francis had taken some of his merchandise to sell, Peitro was furious and demanded retribution from his misguided son.
In a public scolding by his father, before the Bishop of Assisi, Francis renounced his heritage and laying even his clothes at his fathers feet, he proudly acknowledged his true father in heaven. The Bishop, embarrassed for Francis because of his nakedness, wrapped him in his own cloak and led him away. For the next two years Francis worked tirelessly rebuilding several of the chapels and small churches in the area. Among them the Portiuncula, the chapel of Mary of the Angels which would later became Franciss most cherished residence.
After living as a Penitent (someone who has reformed his life in an attempt to draw closer to God), Francis was joined by Bernardo of Quintavalle, his first follower and by several other men seeking to follow him in living the Gospel Life. They too saw that Francis believed what Jesus said, Take nothing for your journey, no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, and do not take an extra tunic. ( Luke 9:1-3).
Francis and his followers now devoted themselves to a life of poverty. Together they began preaching repentance and gave all they had to the poor. Within a year this small community grew to eleven fratelli, lesser brothers or Fratres Minores. The brothers occupied their time enjoying a simple life of prayer, travel, singing and praising God while traveling throughout the Umbrian country side.
In 1209 they travelled to Rome to seek the council and permission of Pope Innocent lll to found a new religious order. The Pope at first refused to even see them but after experiencing a vision of Francis holding up the church, Pope Innocent III changed his mind and recognized with his blessing the newly formed community. The Fratres Minores first Rule was nothing more than a collection of Scripture and Gospel texts.
Later that same year Clare of Assisi heard Francis preaching in the church of San Rufino in Assisi and felt drawn to a life of poverty and prayer. On Palm Sunday, March 28th, 1212 Francis welcomed Clare into his fold by establishing the Order of Poor Dames, later called the Poor Clares.
The Brothers worked hard during these years with a song on their lips and joy in their hearts. They worked with Lepers, with the poor and always in poverty.
Many stories abound of the life of Francis and his Companions during these formative years. From journeys to Egypt to convert the Muslim leader Melek el Kamel, to shipwrecks, to the meeting of St. Dominic. Francis acts of humility are recounted in, The Little Flowers, The Wolf of Gubbio and his love of Gods creatures large and small in The Canticle of the Sun.
In 1223, Francis celebrated Christmas in a new and unique way. To re-live the birth of Christ, he set up the very first nativity scene in the town of Greccio. Francis used live animals so that the towns people could truly encounter Christ by experiencing the sights and sounds that surrounded the Infant Christ on the blessed night so many years ago.
The first Midnight Mass is attributed to the Greccio Christmas event.
No gift could be more precious from God then the gift of the stigmata (the painful five wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side) which Francis received while praying during a Lenten fast at a mountain retreat on Mount Alverno, September 13th 1224, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
At this point, Francis was 42, already half blind, and knowing that he was about to die, he asked to be brought back to the Portiuncula. Francis, leaving behind the comforts of the Bishops residence, wished to spend the remainder of his days between the Portiuncula and Rieti under medical supervision. Francis spent this time dictating his spiritual testament. He died the evening of October 3rd, 1226 singing Psalm 141 on the floor of his cell, naked like Christ.
Two years later on July 16th, 1228, Pope Gregory IX (the former friend and protector of the Franciscans, Cardinal Ugolino di Conti) canonized him a Saint.
We also honor Francis for being the first poet of Italy, for the development of the Marian devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Angelus, and the Stations of the Cross.
St. Francis is the Patron Saint of Ecology, Animals and of Italy.
Author of the biography of Francis- Joseph Rene D’Amour
Bodo, Murray, OFM; The Journey and the Dream, Cincinnati, OH, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1988