Saint Francis was born in 1182 in Assissi, Italy. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant and therefore, Francis grew up in a privileged environment. He had some schooling in Latin and French literature, and was fond of the tradition of troubadours (those who traveled the countryside singing love ballads.) As a teenager, Francis would walk about the city in the evenings singing and partying. He had a definite love for life and exhibited a natural leadership with his friends. But Francis grew weary of his carefree existence and began searching “for a love that was above all other loves.” (from the biography, The Perfect Joy of Saint Francis.)
In 1202 a war developed between Assissi and the nearby town of Perugia. Francis paraded off to battle with grand ideas of heroism. But the reality of war quickly dampened his enthusiasm. Many of his comrades were killed or seriously wounded. Francis was spared, only to be imprisoned and held for ransom. He spent a year in a prison dungeon and suffered sickness that followed him throughout his life. He returned to his home city spent and humiliated.
Francis then turned to solitude and prayer in the nearby countryside. He was drawn to the poor and destitute, and found joy in providing them with food and money. On one of his wanderings, he met an old priest who watched over a dilapidated church called St. Damian’s. The priest encouraged him to rebuild the church. Francis entered, and as he prayed before the crucifix, God spoke to him and asked him to rebuild His Church, with a capital “C”.
From that point on, Francis dedicated himself to a life of poverty and charity. He wore a simple robe and learned to beg with the beggars. In return he experienced inner joy and a deep love for God as his Father. He was discovering the love above all other loves.
He composed poems and songs about the beauty of creation, including The Canticle of the Sun. Francis communed with the birds and animals and shared a special connection with them. When he spoke, they actually seemed to understand.
His humility and love for God attracted a group of followers who would become the Friars Minor. At La Verna, in the forests of Italy, he received the stigmata. He suffered great weakness in his later years, and died in 1226 at the age of forty-four. He left behind over 5,000 Friars Minor. Today he is considered the patron saint of animals and the ecology.
A Personal Reflection
What was there about Francis that appealed to so many? Even today his life speaks to the empty spaces in our hearts. I remember as a teenager reading “The Perfect Joy of Saint Francis” and feeling somewhat “shell shocked.” This one small book changed the course of my life. I knew that I sought the love that Francis discovered and that no amount of success, money, or human love would ever fill its void. Francis found a love that was whole hearted, emotional, and devoted to his Maker. He shed the world, put on poverty, and experienced the greatest treasure available to man: the Beauty of Creation and the Love of Jesus. — Written by Blue Heron