Our present Pope Francis chose the name of St. Francis of Assisi as his papal name. He called St. Francis “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” He remarked “How I would like a church that is poor and that is for the poor.”
St. Francis of Assisi Wikimedia
Life of St. Francis of Assisi
How fitting that our Pope would model his pontificate after such a beautiful role model as St. Francis of Assisi. The future saint was born about 1182 in the town of Assisi in Italy. His baptismal name was actually Giovanni, which his father, a wealthy cloth merchant, later changed to Francesco. Francis was one of several children of Pietro and Pica Bernardone.
Early Attributes of Francis
Francis was not a studious young man. When he was 14, he left school to engage in partying and drinking with his friends. He was charming, handsome, and loved fine clothing. He did not want to follow his father into a career in the clothing business. His parents indulged his every whim.
Francis dreamed of becoming a knight. When he was twenty years old, he decided on a military career and engaged in a battle between Assisi and Perugia. He was taken prisoner and was held captive for more than a year in Perugia. In prison, Francis suffered from a fever which turned his thoughts to the emptiness of his life. When he was released from prison in 1203, after his father finally came up with the ransom money, he returned to Assisi and was a very different man. He was possessed with a yearning for the life of the spirit.
Francis Meets the Leper - Wikimedia by Eugenio Hansen, OSF
Francis Meets the Leper
One day, when he was traveling on horseback, Francis came upon a poor leper. He viewed the leper as Jesus in disguise. Controlling his aversion to the disease, he dismounted, kissed the leper, and gave him all the money he had. Francis then felt an indescribable freedom; his earlier lifestyle had lost its appeal.
Soon thereafter, he made a pilgrimage to Rome. Before the tomb of St. Peter, he emptied his purse. He then exchanged clothes with a penniless beggar, and spent the rest of the day fasting with the rest of the beggars in front of the Basilica.
“Francis, Repair My House”
Praying before a crucifix, Francis heard the voice of God saying “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which you see is falling into ruin.” He then sold his horse and his belongings for money to secure the restoration of St. Damian’s Church. He restored other churches too, not realizing that God was asking him to rebuild the entire Christian church which needed reform and renewal. Francis began a life of solitude, seeking an answer to his call. He lived a life of extreme poverty and was joined by twelve young men who followed him.
The Rift Between Francis and His Father
Francis’ father was furious at his son’s conduct, and Francis hid himself in a cave for a whole month to avoid his father. When he returned home, he was hungry and dirty, and was pelted with mud and stones by an unruly crowd who dragged him home to his father who beat him, bound him, and locked him in a closet. His father took away Francis’ inheritance which served to please Francis. He stripped down naked in front of his father, and gave his clothes to him. Francis and his father never spoke again.
Francis Begins His Preaching
Francis began to exhort the people who listened to him to embrace penance, brotherly love, and peace. Bernard of Quintavalle was the first man to join Francis. They built themselves a hut at the Porziuncola, the little chapel of St Mary of the Angels, just outside the town.
Beginning of the Friars Minor
When the number of his companions grew to eleven, Francis decided to establish a written rule for them. They called themselves the Friars Minor and went to Rome to seek the approval of Pope Innocent III. The Pope granted Francis and his companions the right to preach repentance everywhere. They all received the ecclesiastical tonsure, and Francis was ordained a deacon. They slept in haylofts, grottos and church verandas, toiled with farmers in the fields, and when they could not get work, they would beg. Francis' love for animals and for all of nature is one of his most lovable attributes.
Bird in the Hand - Wikimedia
The Call of St. Clare of Assisi
In 1212, Clare, a young woman who lived in Assisi, was impressed by Francis’ preaching at the church of St. George. She spoke to him, and begged to be allowed to follow the rule of the life he had founded. Clare was only eighteen years old when she left her father’s house secretly with two companions and journeyed to the Porziuncola, where the friars met them, carrying lighted torches. Francis cut off her hair, clothed her in the Minorite habit, and received her in a life of poverty, penance, and seclusion. The three new recruits stayed with the Benedictine nuns near Assisi until Francis was able to provide them with living quarters. Clare’s sister, who became St. Agnes, and other young women joined them, calling themselves the Poor Clares.
Francis’ Regard for Learning
Francis regarded the possession of a great many books as counter-productive to the poverty to which his friars had pledged. He resisted their desire for book-learning since it struck at the roots of the simplicity which was the essence of their life, and stifled their prayer life which he regarded as preferable to everything else.
The Porziuncola Indulgence
The salvation of souls was uppermost in Francis's works. He desired to make the Porziuncola a haven where many souls would be saved. He therefore asked Pope Honorius III to grant a plenary Indulgence for all who, having confessed their sins, should visit the little chapel. Pope Honorius III declared that August 2 would be the day for gaining this Porziuncola Indulgence, known as the “Pardon of Assisi.”
Also, the Friars Minor are the official guardian of the Holy Places in Palestine. They were given “Custody of the Holy Land” at their General Chapter of 1217. St. Francis visited the Holy Land in 1219-1220.
Late in his life, Francis received the Stigmata of Jesus Christ, which are marks resembling the wounds Jesus Christ suffered when he was crucified. Francis was the first person to receive such holy wounds.
Our Present Pope Chose the Name Francis Wikimedia
Canonization of St. Francis and St. Clare
Francis is called the patron saint of Ecologists because of his high regard for animals and nature. He died in Assisi on October 3, 1226, and was canonized two years later by Pope Gregory IX on July 16, 1228. St. Clare was also canonized two years after her death, by Pope Alexander IV on September 26, 1255.