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October 4 – Francis of Assisi

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read 1 Kings 17:2-6

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”

So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

More thoughts for meditation about Francis of Assisi

St. Francis Renouncing his Worldly Goods by Giotto, c.1320, Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence, Italy

Francis of Assisi was born around 1181 and died in his forties on October 3, 1226 (but his feast day is Oct. 4 for various reasons). He was born as John Francis Bernard (Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone) to a wealthy cloth merchant. He enjoyed a luxurious and wordly lifestyle in his youth.

He fought as a soldier for Assisi. But while at war, he had the first of many experiences that called him to a life of poverty, community and restoration of the church. Shortly after he returned to Assisi after a war, he began witnessing in the streets and gained followers. His influence generated the Franciscan order, the Order of St. Clare and the Third Order Franciscans.

He influenced many and was often seen as a beacon of light during a period of corruption and darkness in the church. He’s still highly regarded and influential today.

S.Francesco speco.jpg
The oldest surviving depiction of Saint Francis is a fresco near the entrance of the Benedictine abbey of Subiaco, painted between March 1228 and March 1229.

Here is part of the biography of his early years from the Catholic Encyclopedia

“Not long after his return to Assisi, whilst Francis was praying before an ancient crucifix in the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damian’s below the town, he heard a voice saying: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” Taking this behest literally, as referring to the ruinous church wherein he knelt, Francis went to his father’s shop, impulsively bundled together a load of coloured drapery, and mounting his horse hastened to Foligno, then a mart of some importance, and there sold both horse and stuff to procure the money needful for the restoration of St. Damian’s. When, however, the poor priest who officiated there refused to receive the gold thus gotten, Francis flung it from him disdainfully. The elder Bernardone, a most niggardly man, was incensed beyond measure at his son’s conduct, and Francis, to avert his father’s wrath, hid himself in a cave near St. Damian’s for a whole month. When he emerged from this place of concealment and returned to the town, emaciated with hunger and squalid with dirt, Francis was followed by a hooting rabble, pelted with mud and stones, and otherwise mocked as a madman. Finally, he was dragged home by his father, beaten, bound, and locked in a dark closet.

Freed by his mother during Bernardone’s absence, Francis returned at once to St. Damian’s, where he found a shelter with the officiating priest, but he was soon cited before the city consuls by his father. The latter, not content with having recovered the scattered gold from St. Damian’s, sought also to force his son to forego his inheritance. This Francis was only too eager to do; he declared, however, that since he had entered the service of God he was no longer under civil jurisdiction. Having therefore been taken before the bishop, Francis stripped himself of the very clothes he wore, and gave them to his father, saying: “Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only ‘Our Father who art in Heaven’.” Then and there, as Dante sings, were solemnized Francis’s nuptials with his beloved spouse, the Lady Poverty, under which name, in the mystical language afterwards so familiar to him, he comprehended the total surrender of all worldly goods, honours, and privileges. And now Francis wandered forth into the hills behind Assisi, improvising hymns of praise as he went. “I am the herald of the great King”, he declared in answer to some robbers, who thereupon despoiled him of all he had and threw him scornfully in a snow drift. Naked and half frozen, Francis crawled to a neighbouring monastery and there worked for a time as a scullion. At Gubbio, whither he went next, Francis obtained from a friend the cloak, girdle, and staff of a pilgrim as an alms. Returning to Assisi, he traversed the city begging stones for the restoration of St. Damian’s. These he carried to the old chapel, set in place himself, and so at length rebuilt it.”

Want more?

A detailed biography from the Franciscans and a shorter one.

The movie: Brother Sun, Sister Moon[Amazon]. Francis is pictured as a representative of the spirit of the 70’s and the desire of young people for something greater than the corrupt institutions of church and state were offering.

Another movie: The Flowers of St. Francis, a 1950 film directed by Roberto Rossellini and co-written by Federico Fellini. This captures the spontaneous and joyful spirit that St Francis embodied. Another recent Italian TV movie.

The newest of many favorite books about Francis: Francis of Assisi and His World, by Mark Galli, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, by Richard Rohr

Hans Kung, the great Catholic theologian, writes a great post about the first pope to take the name Francis.

Suggestions for action

“Francis’ all-night prayer, “Who are you, O God, and who am I?” is probably a perfect prayer, because it is the most honest prayer we can offer.”—Richard Rohr in Eager to Love

Francis has become so well known for relating to animals that most people think of him as a birdbath. But he was a wild and creative radical. He took the way of monasticism and added joy to it and a restoration of loving relationships and connection to the earth. Consider his example of simplicity, submission, community, and his mission of building the church. How can you and we find our own version of a radical restoration of a deteriorating church?

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