Tomorrow on the second day of the Spiritual Formation course I am enrolled on this year we will be ‘praying with Francis’. All I knew about St Francis was that he was St Francis of Assisi and he loved birds! So in preparation for tomorrow I went searching online to learn more about him.
Here are my top 14 key facts and stories:
- St Francis was the founder of the Franciscan Order, he was born at Assisi in Umbria, in 1181.
- His mother named him Giovanni, after John the Baptist. His Father was away in France when he was born. When he returned he was apparently furious with her choice of name and renamed his son Francesco.
- In his youth Francis loved to party, and he fulfilled every hope of his father, falling in love with France, being good at business, and seeking wealth, glory and prestige.
I wonder what his mother thought? Was she faithful in prayer for him throughout her life? Did she still call him Giovanni in her prayers? Did she have faith that God had a call on his life that would eventually be fulfilled, in God’s perfect time?
- In his quest for glory Francis became a knight and fought for Assisi. Later he joined the Fourth Crusade and his father equipped him with a magnificent gold suit of armour and a horse……
- ….But just one day’s ride from Assisi Francis had a dream in which God told him he had got it all wrong, and told him to return home. He did return home, where this man who had previously wanted nothing more than to be liked was humiliated, laughed at, and called a coward.
- One day while riding through the countryside, Francis met a leper. He was repulsed the sight and smell of the leper, but in spite of this he got down from his horse and kissed the hand of the leper. When the leper returned his kiss Francis was filled with joy. As he rode off he looked back and the leper had disappeared. Francis looked back on this as having been a test from God…that he had passed.
- While he was praying in the ancient church at San Damiano, he heard Christ call him, “Francis, repair my church.” Francis took fabric from his father’s shop and sold it to raise money to repair the church. His Father made Francis return the money and renounce all rights as his heir. Francis gave back the money and also stripped off all his clothes until he was wearing only a hair shirt. He said, “Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.'”
- As more people began to follow Francis he developed his first rule. He referred to three passages in the Bible: the command to the rich young man to sell all his goods and give to the poor, the order to the apostles to take nothing on their journey, and the demand to take up the cross daily.
- Francis’ brotherhood included all of God’s creation and he believed that the sparrow was as much his brother as the pope. In one famous story, Francis preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful for their wonderful clothes, their independence, and for God’s care. The birds stood still as he walked among them and only flew away when he gave them permission to.Another famous story tells how Francis helped a wolf. The wolf had been eating people from a particularly town and they wanted to kill the wolf. Francis spoke to the wolf and told him not to kill again. The townspeople made sure that the wolf always had food, and he became like a pet to them.
- People noticed that these barefoot begging Franciscans who wore sacks seemed to be filled with joy; and they asked themselves ‘could one own nothing and be happy?’ Possessing something meant the death of love for Francis. Why wouldn’t it bring joy he reasoned because what could you do to a man who owns nothing? You can’t starve a fasting man, you can’t steal from someone who has no money, you can’t ruin someone who hates prestige. They were truly free.
- In 1219 Francis went to Egypt where a Crusader army had been encamped for over a year besieging the walled city of Damietta. The Sultan, al-Kamil received Francis graciously and his attempted rapprochement with the Muslim world had far-reaching consequences, long past his own death, since after the fall of the Crusader Kingdom, the Francisans were the only Catholics who were permitted to remain in the Holy Land
- (My favourite!) Around 1220, Francis celebrated Christmas by setting up the first known Nativity scene. He used real animals to create a living scene so that the worshipers could contemplate the birth of the child Jesus.
- He died during the evening hours of October 3, 1226, while listening to a reading he had requested of Psalm 142.
- On July 16, 1228, he was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory IX. He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment, and is one of the two patron saints of Italy (with Catherine of Siena).
If you’re intrigued to learn more please look up this article at Catholic Online – it is a wonderful read and the source of all I’ve shared here.
I would love to hear more about St Francis, do you have a favourite story or favourite prayer of his to share? If he is new to you to, which of the stories I’ve shared stands out to you? For me it is the nativity scene, which is now such a wonderful tradition. It is lovely to learn that it has such a contemplative beginning.