The world is celebrating the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi today! Francesco di Bernadone, whose real name was actually Giovanni (John), was born some 800 years ago. He came from a wealthy family. But turned his back on his mercantile father and gave up all worldly goods to help the poor as well as the animals.
Before he turned 14 years old, however, he would party hardy. He would take wine from his father’s house to his friends outdoors. They would drink heavily and enjoy his company so much that they referred to him as the “king of the revelers.”
Francis lived during the age of the crusades and wanted nothing more than to be a soldier and fight in the crusades against the Saracens. He was outfitted by his wealthy father to appear like a knight on a white horse as he gallivanted off to defend the city of Assisi against its neighboring neighbor in Perugia.
Unfortunately, they were outnumbered. All of the infantrymen and all of the archers were put to death. Perugia thought that Francis was royalty because he rode a horse. He was captured and threw him into an old-time Etruscan prison.
He languished there for about a year until his father paid the ransom to release him. When he got out, Francis was a changed man and withdrew from the society that he had been accustomed to before getting what I call PTSD from the battle and the imprisonment. He stayed away from most people and actually contemplated life in caves near his home. At some point, a voice advised him never to go to war and Francis followed that voice and ended up at a ruined chapel in Assisi. That is when he heard the historic voice from Jesus which Francis later told his followers was simply to: “Go and rebuild my church.”
Francis believed he was told to rebuild the small chapel that he was praying in. And that is exactly what he did until the place of worship was rebuilt with a new roof and additional supports for the walls.
What Francis did not realize until years later, was that he was being directed to help rebuild the Catholic Church. He did this when he formed the Franciscans which is the order of monks that have turned their back on all money and gave allegiance to helping the poor and the downtrodden and “Lady Poverty.”
He is the patron saint of animals because of the aid he provided to not only birds in his famous sermon and to fishes that he prayed over, the insects he passed on walking paths as well as the infamous fierce wolf that he helped to save by urging the townspeople of Gubbio to feed the wolf on the outskirts so that he would not dig up graves for food.
His favorite saint was Michael the Archangel. He had decided to pray and meditate in a cave during a retreat for Michaelmas Day in September of the year 1224. That is when he was met by one of the highest grades of angels, a seraph which has three wings on both sides of their body. It was at that moment that the praying monk received the stigmata – injuries to his hands his feet and his side which were the same as Jesus Christ.
He told no one about the injuries and kept them covered while he wore gloves and suffered the pains from the injuries. He died two years later and the church celebrated his feast day upon the day of his death.
I took the name Francis as my confirmation name when I was in third grade and honor him by feeding the birds, the dog, the cats as well as the chickens and the roosters at my Conshohocken home.
I also wrote a fictional book about him but forgot to include my name because I wanted it to appear as if it was actually written by Francis. The preface was fictionally written by St. Clare – of the “Poor Clare’s” – whom Francis shared his love for the poor and needy. Please see the following: Francis of Assisi; A Novel Awakening to Lady Poverty.