The icon, not the man An answered prayer
Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis on the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church. St. Francis has been in the news a lot recently, although he’s been dead for 787 years. Of course there’s the new Pope and his brilliant and inspired choice of name as he attempts to clean up the mess at the Vatican and restore the confidence of the world’s Catholics in their church.
Regardless of that, however, today nearly everyone “loves” St. Francis, his very name today suggests simple goodness, mercy, forgiveness and he has become the patron saint of animals and the environment, burning issues for us today.
But in all this worthy recognition and discussion, I feel something very important has been forgotten about the true significance of this holy man St. Francis.
Few people mumbling his name and referring to him are aware of the arduous spiritual journey of St. Francis or his utter re-commitment of his youthful frivolous life as the son of a wealthy merchant to become “a minstrel and fool for the Lord.”
Statues of St, Francis feeding and talking to the birds are in gardens all over the world and his very name makes a certain sort of tender-hearted people smile and breathe prayers of thanksgiving.
But St. Francis is much more than his marvelous prayers that people of all denominations recite today, more than his glorious inspiring poems “Canticle of the Sun” and “Brother Wolf” and “Sister Moon,” as moving and beautiful as they are.
St. Francis had a hard life following his decision to abandon his conventionally comfortable situation and to embrace fully a life completely without any reservation dedicated to proclaiming the Good News and establishing an organization that would survive him to carry on his work.
His frequent contact through prayer gave him visions and ecstasies, the raptures of mystical saints such as St. John of the Cross and St. Therese of Liseaux and others.
When St. Francis finally was released from his trials in this life, he bore on his physical body the stigmata, his hands and feet and side bleeding, of the signs of the cross, and this according to many witnesses, some believers and some not.
Believe it or not.
Some background on this:
“St. Francis of Assisi (Italian: San Francesco d’Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but nicknamed Francesco (“the Frenchman”) by his father, 1181/1182 – October 3, 1226) was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men’s Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis for men and women not able to live the lives of itinerant preachers followed by the early members of the Order of Friars Minor or the monastic lives of the Poor Clares. Though he was never ordained to the Catholic priesthood, Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
Francis’ father was Pietro di Bernardone, a prosperous silk merchant. Francis lived the high-spirited life typical of a wealthy young man, even fighting as a soldier for Assisi. While going off to war in 1204, Francis had a vision that directed him back to Assisi, where he lost his taste for his worldly life. On a pilgrimage to Rome, he joined the poor in begging at St. Peter’s Basilica. The experience moved him to live in poverty. Francis returned home, began preaching on the streets, and soon amassed a following. His Order was authorized by Pope Innocent III in 1210. He then founded the Order of Poor Clares, which became an enclosed religious order for women, as well as the Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance (commonly called the Third Order).
In 1219, he went to Egypt in an attempt to convert the Sultan to put an end to the conflict of the Crusades. By this point, the Franciscan Order had grown to such an extent that its primitive organizational structure was no longer sufficient. He returned to Italy to organize the Order. Once his community was authorized by the Pope, he withdrew increasingly from external affairs.
In 1223, Francis arranged for the first Christmas manger scene. In 1224, he received the stigmata, making him the first recorded person to bear the wounds of Christ’s Passion. He died during the evening hours of October 3, 1226, while listening to a reading he had requested of Psalm 140.* [actually Psalm 141 in St. Francis’ Vulgate edition of the bible]
On July 16, 1228, he was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX. He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment, and is one of the two patron saints of Italy (with Catherine of Siena). It is customary for Catholic and Anglican churches to hold ceremonies blessing animals on his feast day of October 4. He is also known for his love of the Eucharist, his sorrow during the Stations of the Cross, and for the creation of the Christmas creche or Nativity Scene.”
Several good “objective” biographies of Francis of Assisi are available, some of them recent. An inspired moving biography by C.K Chesterton was published early in the twentieth century.
*As the October evening fell rapidly, and it grew dark in the little hut in the Portiuncula woods, St. Francis prayed:
Voce mea ad Dominum clamavi!
[“With my voice I have cried out to the Lord!”]
Psalm 141, a Psalm of David, the Vulgate begins:
I cried to the Lord with my voice:
with my voice I made supplication to the Lord.
In his sight I p[our out my prayer,
and before him I declare my trouble:
When my spirit failed me, then thou knewest my paths.
In this way, wherein I walked,
they have hidden a snare for me.
I looked on my right hand, and beheld:
and there was no one that would know me.
Flight hath failed me:
and there is no one that hath regard to my soul.
I cried to thee, O Lord; I said:
Thou art my hope, my portion in the land of the living.
Attend to my supplication: for I am brought very low.
Deliver me from my persecutors;
for they are stronger than I.
Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name:
the just wait for me, until thou reward me.
- St. Francis of Assisi (saintpatrickk.com)
- A medieval saint in modern times (oup.com)
- Francis at the Tomb of Francis (ivoter.com)
- Pope Francis will venerate the tomb of St Francis of Assisi tomorrow (catholicherald.co.uk)
- Pope follows footsteps of namesake St. Francis (kansascity.com)
- Stolen St. Francis of Assisi Statue Is Returned – With ‘Sissy’ Makeover (theblaze.com)
- Feast of St. Francis of Assisi – October 4th (victoriannana57.wordpress.com)