Monday, October 4, 1999
Monday October 5:
Feast of Saint Francis of Assis, Religious Founder, Mystic and Stigmatist
First Reading: Jonah 1: 1-16; 2: 1, 11
Psalms: Jonah 2: 2-5, 7-8
Gospel Reading: Luke 10: 25-37
Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Religious Founder, Mystic and Stigmatist
Few saints are as beloved as Saint Francis of Assisi who founded the Franciscans in the 12th Century. No order ever grew so fast. Francis was born Francis Bernardone in 1181 to a wealthy wool dyer who encouraged Francis to follow in his footsteps. Francis was well on his way toward this avocation, spending his youth recklessly at times with an adventurous spirit, impulsively enlisting in the war between Assisi and Perugia. One night, while sleeping on the battlefield in full gear, Francis had a mystical dream in which he saw himself returning to Assisi and entered the church of St. Damian where he heard three times Christ's words to repair His Church depicted by a crucifix that had been shattered. This dream was so pronounced that Francis, upon awakening, resigned his commission in the military, then renounced his patrimony by defrocking to the waist in front of his father, bishops and the well-to-do aristocrats of Assisi as well as the townsfolk as a gesture that he was stripping himself of all worldly possessions and consecrating himself to God by turning to a life as a mendicant preacher. Around 1207 Francis put on the robes of a penitent and sought to lead a contemplative, secluded life. At first he had taken Our Lord's words literally, constructing with his own hands a one room portiuncula church that still stands today inside the large church at the base of the hills leading to the town of Assisi. While reading a passage from Luke 9: 3-5 on the mission of the Apostles, Francis knew his mission was to gather a group of like-minded men for the purpose of preaching the gospel to all, especially those who could not read. Thus, he began the Order of Friars Minor and Pope Innocent III orally approved the first Rule, but not until Francis and his men had walked all the way from Assisi to Rome in hopes of gaining an audience with his holiness only to be turned away. In a mystical dream, Innocent was shown what would happen if he turned down Francis' request and what Francis' mission truly was. Innocent sent for Francis who already was half way back to Assisi to give him word that yes, the Holy Father had approved his Holy Rule. Francis, overjoyed, shared the news with his compadres and they began to preach the gospel everywhere, fostering numerous vocations as men sought to join this holy friar, with only a brown robe, cinctured rope and sandals as their possessions. Francis had always longed to be a martyr and yearned, like his counterpart and friend Saint Anthony to go the Morocco and preach to the heathens. Francis did go to Morocco, Egypt and then Palestine and five of his Franciscans were martyred by the Muslims, but not Francis who returned to Assisi where he, along with Saint Clare founded the Poor Clares, an order of Franciscan women dedicated to a life of contemplative, cloistered life in supporting the Friars through their sacrifices and prayers. Because his order had grown so fast, not all were the "cream of the crop" and many began to fudge here and there relaxing the rigors of the rule in respect to holy poverty. Therefore Francis, not wanting to lose them and realizing not all were cut out for a life of strict poverty, began working in 1220 on a second Rule for just this purpose establishing two branches of the Franciscan Friars, catering to the more relaxed rule, while maintaining the purity of the strict rule. On September 14, 1224 with his health suffering greatly from numerous physical afflictions from the rigorous schedule he had maintained and almost blind, Francis received an extraordinary gift from Jesus - the mark of the stigmata, the holy wounds of Christ while in contemplation on Mount Alverno in Italy. It was the first authenticated case of a stigmatist in the history of the Church. He was, as it were, wounded in love, and here he composed his famous "Canticle of the Sun" as well as the beautiful St. Francis' Prayer for Peace that he is most widely known for. This dedicated saint, referred to this day as "The Most Holy Father," died on October 4, 1224 at the relatively young age of 45 years old and was mourned the world over. The Franciscans remain the largest body of religious in the Church today.