A Saint Who Founded A Religious Order – Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of AssisiThe streets of Assisi were bathed with sunlight. Down them rode Francis Bernardone, a smile on his lips, a song in his heart. Francis was young and happy, the leader of the young men of his city; and he had wonderful dreams of winning honour and glory in the wars that were always being fought between the Italian cities of his day.

Francis was the son of Peter and Pica Bernardone.

He was born in Assisi in the year 1182, and, as Peter Bernardone was a wealthy and well-respected citizen, his son was given a good education and took his place as unquestioned leader among those who would now be called teenagers.

Nothing disturbed the carefree and happy life of Francis until he was twenty. Then Assisi and the neighbouring territory of Perugia declared war, and Francis’s heart leapt high. Here was his chance at last! Riding his noble horse and dressed in splendid clothing, Francis rode gaily to the war. But alas for his dreams! The Assisians were defeated and Francis was taken prisoner. But even prison could not dampen the joy that he always felt. His fellow-prisoners said: “You are mad to be merry in prison.”

Francis just smiled at them. But at the same time, he became more thoughtful, and he could not help wondering about the life he had been leading. Perhaps God wanted more of him than an empty, carefree life. At length the prisoners were set free, and! Francis returned to Assisi. His friends noticed that although he was always cheerful he was much quieter than before, and Francis himself found no satisfaction in his old pleasures.

He prayed and waited. One day he made a visit to the Church of Saint Damian, outside Assisi, and as he knelt before the Crucifix, a voice seemed to come from the figure of Christ on the Cross.

“Go and repair My Church for Me.”

Francis was very astonished, and in a trembling voice, replied:

“Gladly will I do it, dear Lord.”

Our Lord meant Francis to help restore His Church to spiritual fervour, but the eager young man noticed that Saint Damian’s was falling to ruins, and immediately set about rebuilding it. His father was angry with him and finally disowned him, and Francis cried out that in future he would have no father but God in Heaven.

For a while, Francis lived as a hermit, wearing a tunic of rough sacking tied round the waist with a cord. He wanted to be very poor for the sake of Our Lord, Who sometimes had not even a pillow on which to lay His head. But Francis was not by himself for long. Just as companions had gathered round him when he was rich, so they came to him now that he was poor, but this time for a different reason. They wanted Francis to teach them to love God as he did, and to share his life of prayer and poverty. And although Francis did not realize it, this was the beginning of the great Franciscan Order, because as the years went on many other followers walked in the way Francis led. Priests, brothers, nuns, men and women in the world all claimed Francis of Assisi as their spiritual father.

So many happenings were crowded in the life of Francis that all could not possibly be told here, but some events stand out from the rest. Francis was very happy when Pope Honorius III gave his approval to the Franciscan Order, and he decided to celebrate Christmas in a very special way in thanksgiving. He went with some of his friars to a little country place called Greccio, where the Pope had given them permission to offer Midnight Mass in the open. An altar was erected, and beside it, Francis made a little Crib like the ones seen in churches today at Christmas time. But there was something different about this Crib, because it was the first one to be made to commemorate the birth of Our Lord at Bethlehem long ago.

The people came in great numbers to the Midnight Mass, and they gazed with delight at the Crib. Francis himself knelt at the side of the altar. He was not a priest, only a deacon, because he had such great reverence for the priesthood that he would not be ordained. He used to kneel down and kiss the ground where a priest had walked. When the priest came to the Elevation of the Mass, Francis looked up at the Sacred Host and saw for a minute the Holy Child from the Crib smiling at him and holding out His arms.

Another time, Francis, like Our Lord before him, went up a mountain to pray. This mountain was called Alverna, and Francis wanted to be quite alone so that he could be more united to God. Francis had always had a great love for the Passion of Our Lord, and perhaps as a reward for this devotion, he was now signed with the marks of the Stigmata – the wounds of Christ in his own human body.

When he had finished his prayer Francis noticed his hands and feet, and he felt a burning fire near his heart. In all these places were the glowing wounds that Our Lord had first received on Calvary, and which Francis was to carry till his death. No wonder he would often exclaim: “My Love is crucified.”

It was only two years after this that Francis died. He was not an old man, only forty-four years of age, but he was worn out with his work and love for God. When he knew that his last moments had come, he asked his brother Franciscans gathered round him to lift him out of bed and rest him on the bare ground, that he might die as he had lived, a poor man for the love of God. Saint Francis of Assisi was canonized by Pope Gregory IX only two years after his death, and his feast is kept on October 4th.

Like all the saints, Francis can teach us many lessons, but these two may be singled out: his great love and respect for priests, and his devotion to the sufferings and death of Christ.

Saint Francis of Assisi, teach us to reverence Our Lord in His priests, and to love Him in His Sacred Passion.

– from the pamphlet Hero Stories especially for Boys. (Girls too!), by Eileen Taylor, Australian Catholic Truth Society, #1258, 1957