Saint Francis of Assisi
The saint who appeals to all yet he took the hardest way of everyone to paradise, in his extraordinary poverty, humility and charity.
He came from an esteemed family and espoused a military career in the many subdivisions of late mediaeval Italy. He quickly decided to pursue the religious life in what became the Franciscan friars, who lived from hand to mouth in those days. One of his habits was to pick up the Bible and open it at random to read and comprehend that page of scripture with his companions. He loved the Gospels and the Old Testament.
2. Francis the man
A man who gave up everything for his religious vocation to poverty and prayer. He long desired a Martyr’s death which he was denied, yet he was afflicted by the Stigmata, which is a very rare physical disfigurement centring on the wounds of the crucified Christ, to the palms of the hands, feet and the side (the spear struck the side of Christ). It is believed only the very holy and prayer full attains the stigmata, which is painful as open wounds not capable of healing (running sores). The Stigmata came late in life to St. Francis as a sign of his closeness to our crucified Redeemer. With Francis his hallmark was his forsaking of worldly riches. He spoke of Our Lady Poverty combining the Virgin Mary with his vow of poverty. An interesting angle that poverty in Francis was espoused by Our Lady. He really desired eagerly her moral support as Mother of Christ.
3. Francis and the world of nature
Apparently such was the power of his presence even the birds of the air perched on his arms, knees and hands. They felt secure in his aura. Strangely I have seen a similar occurrence in my youth when a particular individual tamed a wild jackdaw. Francis was clearly at one with creation and his creator – an exceptionally rare quality.
4. Francis and Roman Catholicism
Francis was not a greatly organised Catholic but he was inspirational, there can be no doubt. A Franciscan Friar may not sometimes be a priest – it is not obligatory, even now. Francis probably was not ordained as he did not seek priestly authority. His whole life’s philosophy was the antithesis of his exercising power over others. He sought companionship with his Friars and the poor Clares. He divested himself of everything that came between him and the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. His Roman Catholicism was built on the veracity of the Bible in particular the New Testament. He probably understood and applied the Parables and teachings of Christ better than anyone since Jesus himself. The prayer of St. Francis concentrates upon understanding others, consoling them and loving them, above all. It is also about pardoning and giving. His philosophy was altruistic exclusively. His life was sacrificial to the point of the Stigmata. Even Margaret Thatcher quoted from his prayer, taking office in 1979. She a non-Catholic recognised the call of Francis over the centuries.
5. The legacy of St. Francis
This lies in his amazing example of selflessness and generosity of spirit. No one will have a word said against him. He does however expect a lot of each one of us and we know if we come up short. The camel can pass through the eye of the needle more easily than a rich man may enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Christ). Francis is contrite in his heart as Christ is for us. He is not harsh but his Gospel is nevertheless uncompromising for himself, as it is for us. Francis will not forsake us but he forsook all earthly pleasures for the life of Christ. Look at the humble modern day Franciscan Priests and brothers, his heirs at Assisi and round the world. They by and large adhere to Catholicism and its hierarchy. Their belief is in the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar as Francis believed and partook. Make no mistake Francis did not forsake Jesus Christ in Holy Communion – he underlined the importance of the twin sacraments of Communion and Confession by his Holy life and his observances.
Francis is at the centre of modern Catholicism in the Basilica of Assisi, where the Pope invites all religious leaders to pray. Francis went through the lines of the Saracens to the Caliph and Sultan and returned into the Crusaders camp. He was ahead of his time and recognised the futility of the Crusades. He was a man who took Christianity by the scruff of the neck and made it see the truth, but in the kindest possible way. He is regarded as a Saint for all believers – I would not disagree. We cannot all be like Francis yet for a very few he powerfully demonstrates the supernatural grace he exemplified on earth to his death on 3 October 1226, aged 44. He is a Saint for all and yet he is a Saint of the very few. I am left to conclude his life was more than remarkable – it glowed with the greatest honour of the Saint who coveted honour more than any other Saint. His message is clear – follow me at your own risk. You may take the Low Road and get to Heaven and Francis. If you take the High Road the way is littered with failures but you will have Francis in his glory to personally greet you in Heaven. I know which road I will take. Pray not for yourself but with the words of Francis: teach me to understand and console my friends as you did on earth for your friends Francis.