St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis was born in Assisi, Umbria, Italy, in 1182, and was baptized John. His father was Pietro di Bernardone, a wealthy textile merchant, and after returning from a business trip to France, and to mark his esteem for that country, he began calling his son Francis. Francis’s youth was spent in comfort and fine clothes. During Assisi’s war with Perugia, Francis joined his city’s forces. But when Assisi was defeated, Francis was unfortunately taken prisoner and remained such for a year. After his release, he volunteered to fight with the papal army in southern Italy, but while passing through Spoleto, on his way south, he had a dream in which a voice told him “to follow the master and not the man.” Thus he returned to Assisi and began to change his way of life. Then in the fall of 1205, while praying in the Church of San Damiano, a short distance from Assisi, he heard a voice coming from the crucifix telling him: “Francis, go and repair my church, which as you see is in ruins.” To purchase the materials needed to repair that church’s fabric, he sold some of his father’s cloth. Because his father did not agree with his son’s action, Francis left home and spent the following two years praying, repairing churches, and visiting the poor and sick.
Sometime in 1208 or 1209, he heard a passage from Matthew’s Gospel (10:5–14) read in church, in which our Lord sent his apostles out to preach and they were to take nothing with them. In imitation of this, Francis lived a life of simplicity, poverty, and humility, and constantly went about preaching God’s love. His joy in following Christ was so evident and attractive that others soon joined him, and thus he wrote a rule for them, with the gospel as their way of life. He called his group Friars Minor, but they are better known as Franciscans. In 1212, he founded an order of nuns, known today as Poor Clares, after St. Clare of Assisi (see August 11). Others also wanted to follow his manner of life—prayer and penance—and for these he established what is known as the Third Order of St. Francis.
In 1219, Francis traveled to the Middle East with the Fifth Crusade, in a vain attempt to convert Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt. Then, on September 14, 1224, he received the stigmata on Mount Alvernia; he is the first individual known to have received it. Throughout his life, Francis remained a deacon—he felt himself unworthy to be ordained a priest. He died at the Portiuncula (St. Mary of the Angels), the cradle of his order, in Assisi, on October 3, 1226, and was canonized two years later (1228) by Pope Gregory IX. Francis was the most extraordinary saint of the Middle Ages and is one of the most attractive of saints. Today’s opening prayer tells us that St. Francis reflected the image of Christ, through his life of poverty and humility, and asks that we too may imitate his joyful love.
Tylenda, J. N. (2003). Saints and Feasts of the Liturgical Year (pp. 212–214). Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.