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 teenage companions. He always could 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. Even today, 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)