Francis was born in Assisi Italy in the fourteenth century, to a wealthy merchant and his father was grooming him to take over the family business. So as a youth he experienced quite a lavish lifestyle and by his account he was sometimes over indulgent, attending social parties and regularly visiting taverns. It was through the social circles that he met the future Saint Claire the daughter of a noble man, also in good social standing. Some suggest that had Francis and Claire not devoted their lives to God that they would have been in love on an earthly level. And it is clear that their love for each other was much greater than this, in fact the most beautiful all encompassing love that any two people could strive for.
When Francis was a young man there was a nearby invasion approaching Assisi and Francis enrolled as a knight to defend the land. This was quite prestigious and his father was very happy. Francis was brave and fought several times, however one day he led his horse to a stream to drink. There, all of a sudden the sky filled with a beautiful white light. An amazing feeling of love came over Francis and he was so overwhelmed he fell to his knees. It is here he said that God spoke to him. God said “Francis you don’t need to do this, this is not your path, go back to Assisi.” At that moment Francis’ life changed completely, he had a mission to follow God. Francis returned to Assisi but the people were not happy and threw him in jail as a deserter. Here he stayed for months until he grew very ill. Every day he asked to hear from God. Finally the voice came back and told him about his mission. Claire then arrived to his recue and was able to get him released from Jail.
Francis went to the mountains to pray for guidance. He knew then he was to devote his life to God. He prayed for months asking for God’s voice when finally God’s voice spoke again and told him “re build my church.” Francis looked around at the chapel in ruins and he took this to mean rebuilding the church with stones. Perhaps later he realized his mission was to rebuild the church in the hearts of the people which is what he ultimately did.
Francis worked at first alone, getting people to donate bricks, then soon others joined him. There were 12 original monks that became his devout companions.
They asked for guidance as to how they should work and live. They opened the bible in three places. Each place they read a passage that had the same message. That they should give up their worldly good to the poor and follow in The Lord’s path. They did. In fact Saint Francis was strictly diligent on himself and his followers. There is a famous scene in history where Francis’ father states that he cannot give up his money because it belongs to his father. At that, Francis strips down and throws his clothes to his father stating that this is the last he owed his father and that he no longer owes anyone anything.
From that moment on Francis took a vow of poverty. He would not own anything. He would not accept any donations and the church would not own land nor any goods. The monks had to beg for their food. It is said that Francis wore only an old tunic and if he met someone cold he would take the tunic off his back and go bare until he found another old used tunic.
From one church, he rebuilt more. And then more, until his order grew to hundreds of churches and thousands of monks, all living in the way of life of a poor humble devote of God.
Francis’ life was one of strife and poverty and constantly punishing himself because he didn’t feel worthy. This is not a life that anyone these days could live up to, nor is this perhaps a necessary burden to enlightenment. However at this time in the middle ages it was perhaps a role model that the church needed with the corruption rife. He was able to rebuild the church not only physically but in a more moral way of life, with the real message of helping others.
I have a few Saint Francis items from Italy, blessed by the priests,
and the Holy water in Assisi, click here