Another Christ

Saint Francis of Assisi

Feast Day: 4th October

The life of Francis of Assisi can be summed up in the words of St Paul, “I live, no not I, but Christ lives in me."

His background and family life was no different from other boys. His father was a cloth merchant who owned a shop and his mother an ordinary housewife. But Francis had one quality more than many others and that was leadership.

He himself tells us in his Testament of the moment his life changed. He had a horror of lepers. One day he was galloping along a country road when he met a leper who pleaded for alms. Generous by nature he threw his pouch of money in the leper's direction and galloped on but heard a voice speak to him, “Francis, if that leper was Christ would you dare to treat him like that?” He went back and dismounted, found the pouch of money and placed it in the leper’s hands and then embraced and kissed him. What courage! Francis tells us that what before had seemed bitter was from that moment changed into sweetness, and he became a new creature. He began to see Christ in everyone and everything.

His gang of friends noticed how quiet he now was and they teased him, asking who was the lady with whom he had fallen in love. To their surprise he said, "Yes, I have fallen in love and my love is Lady Poverty."

He knew he had little in common with his circle of friends, now, and began to live on his own. He would often pray in the Church of San Damiano before a crucifix. One day Christ spoke to him from that cross and said, "Francis, go and repair my Church." Jesus was talking about the universal Church but Francis took the words literally. He could see the building was in a state of disrepair. Immediately he went off to his father's shop, took some rich cloth and along with the horse he rode, sold them and gave the money to the priest but when his father found the cloth missing he requested the money back. This the priest did.

Francis' father took the matter further and reported Francis to the Bishop of Assisi. The whole town gathered to see the outcome. After his father had put forward his case, Francis took off all his clothing and placed them at his father’s feet. Then he boldly proclaimed, "Father, I hand you back the very clothes on my back. Up to now I have called you father, but now I have only one Father, our Father who art in Heaven.” The bishop covered him with his cloak until a peasant garb was brought which Francis wore and chalked the sign of the cross on it.

From that moment he prayed and looked for guidance from God as to what his future was to be. During the Mass of one of the Apostles when the Gospel was read he heard Christ saying, “Take no staff for the journey, no two coats, no haversack, no money in your purse and tell everyone the kingdom of God is close at hand." Francis looked upon this as a direct message from the Lord to himself and from then on the Gospels were to be his rule of life.

Men were soon attracted to him and asked to join his company. When their number reached 12, he was directed by the Lord to seek the approval of his way of life from the Pope in Rome. The Rule of life he presented was a long string of Gospel quotations. When the Pope saw the state of Francis’ clothing he told him sarcastically to go away and grovel with pigs. Off went Francis and rolled himself over and over again in a pigsty. He returned to the Pope who immediately saw the genuineness of Francis and ordered one of his priests to clean him up and give him fresh clothing. When the Pope and the cardinal read Francis' Rule they were of one mind. "No man can possibly live this life.” One cardinal dissented. "Your Holiness and my brother cardinals, if you deny this man and his men what they ask, you are saying that no one today can follow Christ because all they are asking is to live the life of the Gospel.” Francis and his brothers were told they could preach in the whole world the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

His Order spread rapidly. Francis wanted to become more and more like his Lord, telling everyone about the love he had discovered. He even managed to get as far as the Sultan’s camp and was the only Christian to leave his camp alive! If the Sultan had been a man of courage it may have brought about the conversion of the Turks.

Francis wanted to imitate and relive the life of Jesus to the last detail. It was he who made the first crib containing life-size human beings. Like Christ, he spent 40 days in prayer and fasting and it was on one of these occasions that Jesus granted one of his petitions. "Lord Jesus, before I die may I experience in my body just some of the pain you must have felt on Calvary." Two years before his death Christ gave him the stigmata, the very wounds He bore on the Cross.

Francis wanted to know if the Lord wished him and his brothers to be contemplatives or to have an active ministry. He asked Sister Clare and Brother Sylvester to pray that God's will would be told to him. While the three of them in different places prayed for guidance God revealed to him that he should be both contemplative and active.

Francis also wanted to know whether God wanted him to be a priest and the story is told that an angel appeared to him holding a cruet of water. The angel said, “Francis, do you see how clean and how pure this water is? If you want to be a priest you must be as pure as this.” Francis looked upon it as God saying that he wanted him to remain a deacon one step lower than a priest.

Francis had the greatest reverence for all priests. One day someone asked him, "Francis, if you were walking down the street and you met an angel and a priest, whom would you greet first?" Francis said, “I would first kneel in front of the priest and kiss his hand and then greet the angel, for no angel can give me the Body of my Lord." Another time a man said to Francis, "Do you see that man, he is an evil priest.” Francis said, "Whether he is evil or not, I do not know, but since you tell me he is a priest, one thing I do know, that his hands have touched the Body of my Lord." Going over to the priest he knelt down and kissed his hands. From all this it is obvious Francis had an ardent love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He taught his brothers often to towards the Blessed Sacrament and say, "We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, here and in all your Churches throughout the world and we bless you, because by Your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

He saw all creatures reflect their Creator and trod this Earth carefully and lovingly. It is not surprising that he should be proclaimed the patron saint of ecology.

When he came to die, after bidding farewell to all his brothers and adding a verse to Sister Death in his Canticle of the Sun, he had read to him a section of Saint John's Gospel and died after reciting Psalm 141.

Francis of Assisi, of all the men and women who have ever walked this Earth is in my opinion the one who tried to be most Christ-like. For this we love him and today, especially, we ask him to inspire us to change our ways that we may be like him, a true herald of the King.