St. Francis intentionally showed a life full of virtue in his own manner of living. He is regarded as a historical hero and a known saint, canonized two years after his death. His life, at a time was a dramatic lesson just meant to be watched but not imitating. He was born to Pietro and Pica Bernardone in 1181. His father was a rich silk merchant. St. Francis was raised in absolute privilege, living an expensive lifestyle. He held costly parties and dressed in finest fashions of silk. At the time of his birth in Assisi, there was an increase and expansion in the medieval West, (William R. Cook; Ronald B. Herzman p.34)
Considering the wealth and the privileges surrounding him, he decided to abandon schooling and became unmanageable. Being a war hero was his ambition. To fulfill his quest, he decided to join Assisi military to fight against Perugia in 1202. Assisi military was defeated and the troops butchered and some imprisoned including St. Francis. He never knew God’s mission with him. After his release, he encountered a Christ vision at Spoleto and another vision when he returned to Assisi of Christ saying, “Go and rebuilt my church. It is falling down,” (Lawrence 302). The visions he experienced is what made his lifestyle different forever.
In despite of the comfortable and wealthy life, St. Francis chose to live a poor life. He put on rags and wore wooden shoes. His father became extremely angry and even decided to disown him. At one point, he sold part of his father’s belongings to raise money for renovating the church that Christ had talked about in a vision. Moreover, he sold his clothes and gave to the poor. He later returned this money following the severed relation between him and his father. Because he was focused on the mission of rebuilding the church, St. Francis begged money from the townsmen of him.
Upon renouncing the rights to his inheritance, St. Francis resolved that there would be no man anywhere poorer than him William R. Cook; Ronald B. Hertzman p.34). In 1206, he went to Rome and identified himself with the needy while helping them take care of people living with leprosy. For him, living in this world meant praying constantly in deserted chapels and caring for lepers. Francis lived alone for more than two years just wandering because of the Christianity. The then church was extremely powerful. The pope and bishops were rich. They cared mostly in getting wealthy and collecting tithes than caring for the needy. This was a completely different scenario for St. Francis. He passionately served his God by being pure to the heart. He certainly knew that he will be rewarded one day. His actions are a true reflection that a Christian should possess.
After a long time of preaching the gospel around Assisi, he was joined by some loyal followers. Together with his followers, they lived as a community in Assisi where preaching and his work for the poor became more engrossed in him. He became more devoted and stood firm for the other poor Italian preachers because they obeyed and had respect for the church doctrines and authorities. The state of their churches and huts actually portrayed the level of their poverty. They resided in small churches and simple huts. They spent their night on the ground and had very few books and the huts had no chairs or tables. This poverty did not deter them from serving their God purposefully.
In the year 1209, St. Francis became the founder of the order of Friars Minor, something that took people by surprise because he stood for poverty, obedience and chastity. In turn, he gained popularity and many followers came in, (Patricia Appelbaum p.41). Francis intended to spread the gospel mostly to people from around Assisi. Today Christians see St. Francis as the gentle saint who could even preach to the birds and always enjoying the love of God. Out of the love for preaching, he wandered in the whole of Italy. In 1212 he set off as a missionary and went eastwards to preach. At one point, he crossed Mediterranean and visited Egypt aiming to meet the then sultan and sharing with him about Christianity. He risked by crossing the enemy lines and trying to convert the Muslim sultan. Though unconvinced was the sultan, he became impressed by St. Francis. Such commitment showed by Francis is a clear evidence that God always wants to be known by everybody. Even though he was conveying an information to his enemies, God kept protecting and using him.
St. Francis’ entire life experience is one way to show Christians about living in the spirit. He has actually simplified the issue of spirituality. His spiritual life has illuminated many Christian lives who were and still willing to be like him. His life today has become exemplary to an extent of being admired not only Catholics but also the non-Catholics, (Edward Yarnold p.98). His enigma is such deeper beyond our understanding. St. Francis was an orthodox medieval Catholic. He occasionally encouraged his followers to do a regular confession, receive Eucharist and also accept Christ presence in the Eucharist. He as well encourage them to preach only through bishop’s permission.
St. Francis’s words and instructions to his followers informs the today church leaders of their duty and responsibilities. It is of no doubt that St. Francis accomplished the God’s mission in him. He proclaimed God’s name in the entire Italy and abroad before he died.
Francis of Assisi: Performing the Gospel Life by Lawrence S. Cunningham, W.B. Eerdmans, 2016.
St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth- Century Friar Became America’s Most Popular Saint by Patricia Appelbaum, University of North Carolina Press, 2015.
The Medieval Word View: An Introduction by William R. Cook; Ronald B. Herzman, Oxford University Press, 2015 (2nd edition).
The poverty of Riches: St. Francis of Assisi Reconsidered by Kenneth Boxter Wolf, Oxford University Press 2013.
The Study of Spirituality by Cheslyn Jones; Geoffrey Wainwright; Edward Yarnold, Oxford University Press, 2016.