[This is part of a series on the historical stream of Reconnection]
Francis grew up in a wealthy family, his father a cloth merchant, but became disillusioned with the world that was around him early in life. He had been known for drinking and enjoying the company of his many friends, who were usually the sons of nobles, but began acting on his frustration with this way of living. In one account, he was hanging out with some friends when a beggar approached them asking for money. While his friends ignored the beggar, Francis emptied his pockets and gave the man everything he had. His friends were quick to mock him for his stupidity, and when he got home, his father was outraged at what he had done.
Francis continued these acts to a greater and greater degree caring for lepers and begging on the streets. His father became so angry that he brought him before the bishop and threatened to disown him if he didn’t stop giving away all his money and squandering his life on the poor. So Francis took off his clothes, the last of his father’s possessions, and went off into the woods and became a hermit. While Francis was alone he heard the gospel of Matthew when Jesus tells some of his followers to go to the villages and preach the kingdom of God taking nothing with them of worldly value. So Francis received this as a word from God to return to the people to preach the kingdom while continuing to enjoy his life of poverty. Francis returned to Assisi and spent his time begging on the streets to rebuild churches, care for the sick and the poor. Eventually he gathered a following who traveled to Rome for papal approval to begin a new order of the catholic church and returned with permission. St. Francis started what was known as the Friars Minor, the Franciscan order. They wore rough plain habits tied with rope and were not allowed to own anything possessions. They continued caring for the poor by necessity as they lived as poor by choice and cared for the sick and broken.
Francis was also known as the patron saint of animals and ecology. He had been known to preach to the birds who seemed to listen and respond. It is also said he had an encounter with a wolf who was terrorizing a village. He went out to meet the wolf, explained that he could not continue these acts of terror and the wolf became a friend to the town going from business to business for cover and food.
Francis’ ministry connected the Church to the poor, identifying more strongly with them and enter into their life of poverty. He combined preaching of the kingdom with caring for the people’s tangible needs and taking on those needs himself.
Other facts about Francis:
St. Francis had a female counterpart named St. Clare who began the “Poor Clares”. They were the female following of the Franciscan order and had a heavy emphasis on prayer.
Francis was said to have received the stigmata while fasting for 40 days prior to a feast of exultation.
While Francis did not write this prayer it is named after him and captures the heart of his ministry:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
[Photo by Seoirse @ Flickr]