Of all the saints who lived in the second millennium since Christ's birth, Francis may have been the most influential, in both the Christian and non-Christian worlds.
St. Francis of Assisi
Francis Bernardone, the son of a prosperous
cloth merchant, was born in 1182 in the small mountain city of Assisi, Italy.
Loved by his parents and given material privileges, he grew up idealistic,
self-confident, and a leader among his teen-age companions. He could always be
counted on for joining in the fun and revelry that occurred nightly in the
streets of Assisi.
Soon, however, it became apparent that God was
calling Francis to a way of life different from that of his companions. With
hopes of knighthood dashed after becoming ill as a prisoner of war in
neighboring Perugia, Francis looked for direction for his life. After a
time, he realized God was calling him to "rebuild my church" and
that his life was to be lived as one of God's "poor ones,"
sharing what he had with the lepers who were so numerous outside the city and
touching people from all walks of life.
Never intending to gather followers, Francis
was surprised that in a short time thousands of people, comrades from
Assisi and men and women from all over Europe, wanted to join him. The
followers of Francis, both lay and religious, dedicate themselves to being poor
and to serving the poor, living according to the Gospel of Jesus, relating to
all persons as brothers and sisters, and recognizing God's presence within
themselves and in all of creation.
Saint for a New Millennium
Of all the saints who lived in the second
millennium since Christ's birth, Francis may have been the most
influential, in both the Christian and non-Christian worlds. In 1993, the
editorial staff of Time magazine ranked him first among the 10 greatest people
of the second millennium.
Francis has influenced the way many people
think about and respond to God, see themselves and respond to others, and
see the world that God has created and entrusted to the human family.
In his day, many people saw God the Father as
judge and a punisher of sin. Without denying those images, Francis lived out
other biblical images, inviting people to think of God the Father as a generous
and loving Creator, to see God the Son as living proof of God's love and
closeness to the human family, to appreciate God the Spirit as the one who
makes us holy, preparing us for our eternal home.
He Changed How We See the World
"Praised be you, my Lord, with all your
creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, who is the day and through whom you give
us light," prayed Francis in the Canticle of the Creatures, recognized by
many as the charter for a respectful use of the world. Pope John Paul II
proclaimed Francis of Assisi the patron of ecology in 1979, and groups such as
the World Wildlife Fund have held major meetings in Assisi, recognizing
Francis' reverent use of God's creation.
He Influences Other Christians
Roman Catholics do not have a monopoly on
seeing Francis as a powerful example of what the good news can look like if
only we have the courage to live it out boldly and consistently.
Many Orthodox and Protestant Christians regard
Francis as one of their own, sometimes making a place for him in their
liturgical calendars or placing their works of compassion like soup kitchens or
shelters for the homeless under his patronage. Each year thousands of people
visit Assisi and various places associated with Francis' life.
(Adapted from P. McCloskey, OFM
St. Anthony Messenger)
Quotations of St. Francis of Assisi
"Let us, therefore, hold onto the words,
the life, the teaching and the Holy Gospel of Him Who humbled Himself to beg
His Father for us and to make His name known saying: Father, 'Glorify Your name
and glorify Your Son that Your Son may glorify You.'"
-- The Earlier Rule XXII:41
"And if you have done this, I wish to
know in this way if you love the Lord and me, His servant and yours: that there
is not any brother in the world who has sinned -- however much he could have
sinned -- who, after he has looked into your eyes, would ever depart without your
mercy, if he is looking for mercy. And if he were not looking for mercy, you
would ask him if he wants mercy. And if he would sin a thousand times before
your eyes, love him more than me so that you may draw him to the Lord; and
always be merciful with brothers such as these."
A Letter to a Minister 9-11
"I have done what is mine (to do); may
Christ teach you what is yours (to do)!" --
Thomas of Celano, Second Book 214