Saint Francis of Assisi
Written by Michael K. Jones

In 1182 a son was born to a wealthy cloth merchant and his French wife in Assisi, Italy. He was christened Giovanni di Bernardone.

His friends nicknamed him "Francesco" (Frenchy) because he and his mother always spoke French. Francis was a fun-loving member of the wealthy youth of Assisi, but when he and his friends went off to a war with Perugia, he encountered for the first time the horrors of war and human suffering. This shocked Francis so much he became ill for many months. He became withdrawn and lost interest in his former boisterous life.

He spent his days in the fields around Assisi observing all the beauties of nature. One day he entered the ruined church of San Damiano and heard Jesus say: "Francis, rebuild my church". Francis filled with joy, realized that material possessions are bondage, he ran home and threw his father's expensive materials and gold coins out the window of the house. His father was enraged and took him to the Bishop for chastisement. Francis removed all his clothes, gave them to his father, and declared he would be a beggar for Christ.

He began rebuilding the church of San Damiano, stone by stone. Eventually he was joined by former friends and acquaintances of Assisi who were touched by his humility and poverty. They built a little hut for themselves south of Assisi in Portiuncula and traveled throughout Italy preaching repentance and forgiveness. They lived as beggars, living mostly on bread and water.

Francis became the presence of Divine Love and talked with animals. He wrote the "Canticle to the Sun" which praises God for all his beautiful creatures. This has been put to music and is sung in churches in Assisi today. Francis persuaded a wolf in Gubbio to stop attacking the people and livestock there. He devised the first Nativity creche by gathering animals from the fields and positioning them around a corncrib on which he placed a doll representing the infant Jesus. He once looked at a beautiful rosebush and asked it to drop its thorns. This thornless rose still grows in Assisi.

Francis often went to Mt. Subasio near Assisi to pray alone. Once, Jesus appeared to him as a Seraphim and then the stigmata appeared on Francis' body from which a lovely perfume emanated. A young girl of noble family in Assisi, named Clare Offreduccio. was so touched by the devotion of Francis and the brothers that she asked to join them. Later her sister and mother joined the little group. The brothers added living quarters to the rebuilt San Damiano and gave it to Clare and the women who joined her.

Once when Clare and Francis met in the woods below Assisi, a great Light appeared and the people came running with buckets of water to put out what they thought was a forest fire. They found the two in a state of rapture in the love of God.

Francis died in 1226 and was canonized the same year. This is the only time canonization has occurred so quickly in the history of the Church. The prayer from the Divine Office that Francis and his brothers often recited has become known as the Prayer of St. Francis:

A prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.

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 seek so much 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 reborn into Eternal Life.

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