Giovanni di Bernardone:
Totally Self-less Christ-like Inspiration for All People
Most Universally Known and Loved Saint
And a Personal Hero
You Have Seen the Statue, Now Meet the Man
More than Love of Birds and Beasts
Silk Sheets Start
Roll me in designer sheets
I'll never get enough ---Blondie
Amongst the little warring competitive hillside towns above the Umbrian Plain in the middle of Italy, was Assisi; and there, prospering in the growing Medieval middle class, was silk and cloth merchant Pietro di Bernardone. His wife was Pica, probably named for the French section of Picardy where he met her on his sales trips. So, not too long after their youngest and well-loved son, Giovanni, was born and baptized in 1182. He was nicknamed, Francis (Francesco: kind of like the nick "Frenchy"). One can only guess from where this "handle" came: Could there be inspiration from the French Troubadours singing in the area, or more likely this distinctive name was linked to him after Papa's lucrative business journeys to France, (especially to Provence). Furthermore, it could be because Francis was taken on the excursions as a boy, or merely because of the mother's Frankish background (Francis could speak French).
Ring Ring goes the bell. ---Chuck Berry
Francis attended the little school that was part of the Church of Saint George
), but he was only encouraged to master what would benefit him in the merchant world. The only reason any Latin was assimilated was because of its nearness to Italian, and he never really learned to write with sufficient proficiency. He was much like the proverbial bored spoiled rich kids. He would rather poetically daydream of Knights on exciting missions than anything else, and ironically his Church focused on this code. Their revelries sung without exclusion of the ribald double standards by the jongleurs that always passed through. This area even was considered "The New Babylon
" as Francis own church sponsored a wild feast of the Holy Innocents
, a social-cultural venting of built up frustrations. The behavior of young Francis was sung in a Breviary hymn
: "He behaved worse than his elders," this verse changed by zealous revisionists to the equally accurate, but less revealing: "He was saved by divine grace." He was not much more than an observant Roman Catholic
at this time of his life, yet the news he received of the Fall of Jerusalem
probably had an imprint. Through here were the roads that many took towards those quest.
The boys are back in town... Drink will flow and blood will spill And if the boys want to fight, you better let 'em... --Thin Lizzy
He was ringleader of a gender-mixed social group, comprised of youthful singing poets, the Company of San Vittorino and Bastone that especially let loose on Feast days with all the equivalent rowdiness associated with the US' New Orleans Mardi Gras. No account is left of Francis committing more than what is considered proximate occasional. One wonders what was in Francis' heart and mind during the town's cruel enjoyment of Bull-fights. The exaggerated songs telling of Knights and their exploits (he could never hope to be one without royal blood), and fair ladies appealed to a part of Francis that would flower in a different manner.
Seeds of Inner Convictions
Francis demonstrated his generous nature with his friends albeit in a direction that Papa Pietro seethed while he hoped his son would grow out of when it was time for serious business, while he rebuked him:
The way you pour out your money, one would think you were the son of a great prince, not of a simple merchant!
But he also felt his conscience pricked by the relative deprivation of others, especially the lepers, the miselli
at their place of forced isolation from the others at the Lazaretto
. These miserable ones had to make a distinctive tapping sound as they approached, and folks would move, repulsed, as far away as they possibly could from them.
Come you Masters of War...
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud. ---Bob Dylan
The feudal lords gave new meaning to the word feud. Not only was there tension between communities, but between the new upcoming bourgeoisie (the Minores) and the old noble families the Majores. But it was the Holy Roman Emperor's man, Conrad von Lutzenfeld, who lorded over Assisi from his fortress at Rocca. While times were stressful, the poor extremely disenfranchised, and the middle class fearing for their political life, the young Francis must have heard the stranger who went through the streets of this time, admonishing, Pax et Bonum, or Peace and Goodness. While Conrad left in 1198 for Rome to give and get the current Pope, Innocent III's blessing, Assisians attacked victoriously the lords of Sassorosso. These feudal lords, however allowed themselves to be 'annexed' by the larger Papal city of Perugia, already a rival, which would then now overlord Assisi.
To regain honor, only armed conflict would suffice. Francis could not be a Knight, but he saw adventure in soldiering for his town, that held the high ground of Monte Subasio overlooking roads leading to Florence and Rome against their aggressive rival, Perugia. Now, twenty years old, the small-statured Francis took up the sword, actually the lance, and donned his helmet and chain-mail, easily paid for his economic and social standing, and joined the Assisians' blockade of the road crossing the Tiber. The ensuing Battle of Collestrada or Ponte San Giovanni was a rout, and he was fatefully captured.
Ain't no bread upon the table,
Ain't no butter in the pan.
Say anything about it,
You're in trouble with the man...
Let the Midnight Special
Shine its ever lovin'' light on me. ---Leadbelly
Francis, at first, fared relatively well in his assigned cell, as he was put with others of his social standing, and his upbeat personality style even helped make peace with fussing jail-mates. He also boasted to his fellow prisoners: "You'll see one day I shall be worshiped by the whole world." Most ironically, to get to the point of that kind of glory would mean sharing the most arduous of suffering. Eventually, the incarceration began to erode his health and his mood. When finally he was released after a year, the worldly interests deemed so important before were no longer held so high. His despondency at this time was the first of many waves of soul-reflecting waters to wash over him. Afterwards, even when enjoying the same the things with his friends, deep inside they gave no joy, but he had not made the Spiritual connection yet.
The Almost Crusader
All the young dudes... ---Mott the Hoople
After making a new friend, the Count Gentile, he shared his dream of fighting for the Walter de Brienne's defense of the lad and King of Sicily. This undertaking gave him new hope and a chance to bedeck himself in more fine clothing and armor. Not making it as far as thirty miles down the to Spoleto, Francis was swept by another wave of revelation, a sudden sickness and a dream where he was asked:
Voice: Would the master be more likely to help your success in your life, or would it be the servant?
Francis: The Master.
Voice: Why then do you run away from the Master Who is God and follow the mere servant?
Francis: Lord, what do you wish me to do?
Voice: Return to your native city and you will discover where your future lies.
Besides continually remembering the Preacher's words a decade earlier, Pax et Bonum
, this additional auditory phenomenon became a premonition, even if Francis' return to Assisi was from a haughty dismissal from Gentile as some reported.
Feast or Famine?
I don't want to spoil the party. ---The Beatles
Francis, not discerning his real reason for coming home, threw himself with as much superficial enthusiasm that he could muster back into his scene with the San Vittorino Company. He produced a tremendous banquet of which he was honored with the President of the Occasion's Bastone. Somehow, he wandered off, and when his feast fellows found him, Bastone on the ground, he was seriously spacing out, and when they finally got him to answer their concerned queries, he answered what they expected, "Yes, I've fallen in love and want to get married to the richest noblest most beautiful girl you can imagine." The reality is he never returned to this kind of merriment again as some kind of third wave was changing the tide of his spirit.
Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall,
All you gotta do is just call,
And I'll be there, running--
You got a friend. ---Carol King
He left behind his old acquaintances, and among the hills and caves he found solace and time to meditate and pray. Christ's suffering on the cross started to occupy his mind. It was here reported that he had one confident, was an anonymous friend, some think future Friar Leo, and others think Elias of Cortona, a brother who would become later more like Judas.
Nobody else can go there for you--
You got to go there by yourself. ---Traditional
Francis as he matured also increased his giving to the poor, and at this stage it increased to fever pitch, with him going so far as to give clothes off his person, and ordering extra food in his families' home for feeding the many impoverished. He became more intrigued of the plight of the Miselli, the lepers to the point of obsession. After many attempts to get closer to the Lazaretto where they had to stay, he passed his test to himself, of kissing a leper, as he felt that was the last thing that still repulsed him about poverty. He was beginning to understand --when his real conversion was taking hold at twenty-three years old -- that his future wife was to be Holy Lady Poverty.
When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybodies' help in any way.
Now I find my life has changed in oh so many ways,
Now I need your help each and every day.
In around 1206, Francis went for advice after his experience to Assisi Bishop Guido. The reality of Francis' sincerity in his relaying his humility must have touched Guido, as he did not act against him. (Remember, this was a dangerous time when some who became radical like the Manichean Paterini, known also as the Cathars or Albigensians were considered heretics.) Bishop Guido was in fact, a powerful noble who owned half the town, and would be one that would be having wary eyes on the wealthy rising mercantile families. It was ironic that he had to submit to authorities, and he did, that were part of an organization that was selling relics, somehow allowing Priests to have concubines, or put in higher positions from less than Spiritual reasons. However, as Francis considered these abuse, he increasingly learned that the return to the message of Jesus in the Gospels was the only answer.
Are You Talking To Me?
And if my thought dreams could be seen --- Bob Dylan
One of the places that Francis liked to go to pray was the dilapidated Chapel of San Damiano. One day when he was desperately seeking clarity and direction he began gazing at the antique, even to their time, crucifix with the piercing eyes looking down at His redeemed. The lips seemed to move, and he heard them mouth this plea:
Francis, you see that My house is falling down -- go and repair it for Me.
Francis replied, without hesitation, that he would willingly. Exalting the Lord, before running home, he emptied his pockets, giving all that he had to the poor parish priest, adding:
Please go out and buy oil for the lamp, the light to stay lit forever before the Crucifix. I'll bring back plenty more to keep it lit.
If I were a carpenter ---Tim Hardin
Full of exaltation at getting a sign for his purpose, he ran home to fulfill his promise to God. Still excited and of single-mindedness when he arrived at his father's house, he grabbed some of the finest silk cloth out of the store, and took it to sell in Spoleto, to avoid possible interference. Bringing back the money to the surprised and perplexed Priest he gave it to him with the crazed zealous admonishment:
Now we can repair the church as God himself would want it.
And, Francis beseeched the Padre to allow him to stay there and work for the Lord forever. The slightly perplexed Father (who was probably aware of the idiosyncratic reputation, and connected family that Francis had) complied.
Tears of Rage ---The Band
Needless to say, when Pietro found out what Francesco had done, he was outraged to the maximum. The imprisonment in shackles in the cellar was a standard fare for disciplining wayward servants or children in those days, and it was what was planned for Francis. By the time the senior Bernardone's party had reached San Damiano, all they found was the terrified Priest, for an equally trepidation filled Francis had fled to and hid in one of his many caves he had found during his earlier solitudes. He remained there for a month, probably helped by his one friend, but finally strengthened Spiritually, he decided to return to Assisi town.
Upon his return, all friends and family totally turned against this crazy pazzo, he was immediately shackled and put under house arrest, which in this case was just as bad as any dungeon. Papa was going to give him plenty of time for penance while he went away on another business trip. Fortunately visiting rights for mother were only a door away, and after Pica realized her son really had experienced an epiphany, she "forgot" to lock the door.
The father upon his return was now twice as furious at twice as many, now that Francis had his wife as an accomplice. This matter had to go before the courts, as Francis was taking refuge at San Damiano. But, his son obtained a ruling from the secular consuls that he claimed to be a "religious" and was under Church jurisdiction.
Here come da judge ---traditional street lingo
Assisi was abuzz and turned out in numbers despite the cold winter of 1206 for the trial at the Bishop's Court at the Episcopal Palace's Piazza del Danta Maria Maggiore. The trial began after Guido, all decked out in complete regalia arrived. After the father stated his case, the Bishop turned to the kneeling Francis and explained that he must return the money as God would not approve of that manner of acquisition. What happened next would have been censored out of Court TV, Francis replied:
Not only the money, m'Lord, for that belongs to him; but all my clothes, too I wish to return to him full-heartedly.
And at that moment he handed over a bag of money, and after ducking around the corner of a doorway, stripped buck-naked and dropped all his apparel to the feet of his father, explaining,
I wanted all of you to fully understand that up to this time, I called Pietro di Bernardone my father, but now that I have chosen to serve only God, I give back all the money that caused such a commotion as well as the clothes. Now, finally, I can say "Our Father Who art in Heaven" and not my father, Pietro di Bernardone.
The crowd was endeared to Francis' cause, and while they cried, Pietro exited stage left clothes and money in tote. All Bishop Guido could do was dismiss Francis to continue his walk with God. (At this time one did not have to get formal training to become a religious brother as required later.)
Taking Off Again
When you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose,
You're invincible now, you got no secrets to confuse... ---Bob Dylan
By spring of 1207 the humbly dressed Francis happily set to repairing not only San Damiano, begging for what was needed, while singing joyful praises, but other neighboring churches as well. By 1209, after blessed but hard work rebuilding, Francis, now in his mid-twenties happened to attend the mass at the Porziuncula, whose edifice he just finished restoring, and the sermon was from the Gospel of Matthew (10:7-10), whose celebration was on the liturgical calendar. It was another turning point for Francis when he heard:
And as you go, preach, saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Take no gold nor silver, nor even copper in your belts. And do not take a bag for your journey, nor two garments, nor sandals, nor staff --for the workman deserves his support.
Francis knew this
was meant for him
, and now, he really and finally had his mission laid out before him, and he just about instantly threw his staff, coat, and belt away and was dressed only in his rough tunic, that became the trademark of the Franciscans that were to follow.
Preaching with conviction and power, and remaining full of joy while having absolutely nothing, Francis attracted followers, starting with a trio: Bernard, who also came from a wealthy family, followed by the unknown Peter, and then faithful Giles, who would remain true to the following of Lady Poverty, even when later brother, Elias the business-minded one, would stray.
Meeting with The Man
Sometimes even the President of the United States has to stand naked. ---Bob Dylan
Understanding that Christ's words to him, "Repair My Church" was of a deeper level than previously known, Francis in typical bold fashion set out for Rome to talk to the Pope. The Pontiff at this time was one of the most ambitious and mighty ones in history: Innocent III. One story, probably concocted later, was the Pope was repulsed by Francis' funky demeanor, and told this bum to preach to the pigs, and after doing so, then saw finally saw him. Actually, and happily Coincidentally, Bishop Guido happened to be in Rome, and introduced Francis to Cardinal John of Saint Paul of San Sabina, who after speaking with him paved the way to a Papal audience with these words:
I believe I have found a man of truly perfect life who only desires to according to the life and ideals of the Gospel. He, I think is someone whom the Lord can use to reform the Holy Church across the face of the world.
The discussion between the Pope and Francis centered around controversy over Francis' ultra-asceticism
. The Pope was not convinced of the practicality of followers living like that until in almost desperation Francis made up a parable about a poor lady who married a king. In this story when she first presented their pretty but impoverished to the king, upon learning they were his indeed was ready to give them what they needed. Synchronicity
was in Francis' favor, as Innocent had a dream very similar to this tale, so he declared:
This is truly a religious and holy man, by word and example he will restore and sustain the Church of God.
Innocent sensing a gifted Catholic
, at a time when the Church cried for unity, he approved the Gospel
text Primitive Rule (regula primitiva
) of his order:
My brothers, go with God and preach penance as the Lord leads you. When the Most High has multiplied your small numbers, come and see me again without hesitation and I will grant you more favors, and entrust you with more important missions.
Francis, in turn, vowed obedience to his authorities, and went away with jubilation.
Leo, Clare Et Al
Will the Circle be unbroken ---Carter Family
Just a teenager, Clare, a little less than a dozen years younger than Francis, probably knew of this now even more unique man during his worldly stage, was now enamored with that same transforming Spirit. They met secretly, chaperoned with a good friend of her mother, Ortolana, and by 1212 after family abductions and rescues she started what would become "The Poor Ladies of the Lord" at San Damiano. Francis, who met her regularly did admit that he loved her, but "...with a perfect love."
Eventually Leo and Elias came on board what became known as the friars minor, the latter being a faithful brother until after Francis' death, when the Zelantis (Spirituals), that Leo stayed with were suppressed. He would be entwined with many more, including Sylvester, Masseo, and Juniper. Leo learned and recorded the dialogues and experiences with Francis that they must as vagrants bear people's cruelty and that endurance would bring them perfect joy. It was near the time when Clare's cousin, Rufino joined them that at Cannara that he went and preached a sermon to "my sisters the birds" which were massed in the roadside's trees:
You owe so much to God your Creator that you must always and everywhere sing His praises. You are free to fly just where you want to. You have been clothed with two and even three thicknesses of vesture. You owe Him thanks for the air which is your element and which He has appointed for you. You do not have to sow or reap, for God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains in safety; high trees in which you can build your nests. Because you do not know how to spin and sow, God has clothed you and your little ones. All this shows how much your Creator loves you. Remember not to fall into the sin of ingratitude and always remember to praise God.
After his blessing, they all rose chirping noisily joyful into the sky. He had to still a flock of noisy feathered friends another time when they interrupted his sermon.
Another famous story relates the taming of the ferocious wolf of Gubbio. The townsfolk hiding in crippling fear behind their walls watched as Francis stopped the lunging monster dead in its tracks with the sign of the cross, and proceeded to preach and rebuke the wolf into submission. More importantly, he used this as a lesson to the villagers, while telling them to feed the wolf to keep him tame, he warned that their unrepented sins would bring them to a worse fate than from fearsome beasts. Some years later the "pet" wolf died of old age and was sorely missed by the community.
Equally precious is the story of the rabbit caught in a trap brought to Francis. He admonished the rabbit to be more observant from thence, but it jumped in his lap and could not get it to stop, until he had a friar take it far into the trees to be released. A story about fish echoed that same scenario.
Twenty-four or Six to One ---Chicago
The daily struggle took its toll on Francis' health, but his spirit also vexed for spending more time in quiet prayer, but he was aware of the evangelizing demand as well. He finally reached confirmation with Clare, Sylvester's prayers answered in this regard and relayed by Masseo that he was to preach the Good News and win souls for the Kingdom. His Spirit, so warm, so close to Christ, brought many out of the cold and dark to his hearth. His greeting for him and them to give all: "The Lord give you peace." He even won over a band of threatening thieves with his kindness. Though Francis did not mind so much books and learning that promoted the Kingdom of God, but he did not encourage his group to gather any beyond some Gospel texts; he strongly shunned all the tools of learning that seemed to be just more means to getting possessions of the kingdom of this world. He was so adamant on having things, he forbade even the communal ownership as well as individual. He was to come to be consistently, sometimes to the point of obtuse, always at war with others, even those in the Roman hierarchy, that tried to improve their lot. They lived in simple shelters and made up simple meals from bartered or borrowed staples. Even concerning studying the Written Word Francis opined:
I am pleased for my friars to study the Scriptures as long as they do not neglect application to prayer, after the example of Christ, of Whom we read that He prayed more than He read.
All we are saying, is give peace a chance ---The Beatles
In around 1213 Francis and many of his brethren attempted to go on a Mission trip to the Middle East, to return to the Holy Land with the Spirit of Christ and Peace instead of the soldier, from his lake to the lake called the Sea of Galilee
. Taking one ship from Ancona that a storm sideline in Dalmatia, and then not able to book passage for Syria, they stowed away with a limited amount of food using only their faith in Lord's future provisions. It so happened that the storms prevented that ship's departure, and everyone's food ran short. Francis merely re-created the miracle of the loaves by sharing his food amazingly with all the hungry passengers and crew. His award came a little later while after traveling through the Appenines
and came across a festive party thrown at the fine house of Count Orlando. Probably seeing the famous man, he was invited to preach for them. The Count, after that and some personal consultation gave him in tremendous gratitude a mountainous location for his use at La Verna
. This would be a place that would become where his most famous miracle would take place.
Thau for T
I pity the fool. ---Mr T
Francis juxtapositioned himself in Rome to hear Pope Innocent III proclaim the sign of the T --thau from Ezekiel 9:4, at the Council of the Lateran in the fall of 1215, and find out that amongst this meetings decision against unofficial Religious Orders, Francis' would be the exception. He also met his senior by thirteen years fellow future Saint, Dominic (Gusmann) while in Rome. Dominic had made a name for himself gathering disciples, the "preaching brothers," while fighting heresy (especially of the Albigensians confronting their day). What a contrast in some ways, however, Dominic was Augustinian, learned, compared to the scraggly deliberately unlearned Francis, whom he'd seen in a prophetic dream presented by the Virgin Mary!
After being by the Pope's death-bed, he had to petition his successor, Honorius III for the Porziuncula anniversary of its repair indulgence, not in money, but souls. The almost impossible request was granted in 1216 and attended by the Bishops of not only Assisi, but of Perugia, Todi, Spoleto, Nocera, Foligna, and of course Gubbio. Francis set it in motion saying:
I would like to send you all to Paradise. Our Lord Pope has granted me by word of mouth the following indulgence. Those of you who are present here today and those who will present in this church on this day in the years to come, so long as their hearts are well disposed and truly penitent, will be forgiven all their sins.
Scattered to the Winds
The answer my friend is blowing in the wind. ---Bob Dylan
After getting a new higher counselor with future Pope, Cardinal Ugolino, the impetus was now with Francis to send out missionaries. Ugolino became their protector, and was so endeared to Francis' dream, he later even as Head of the Church, donned the rough tunic of this order. Ugolino tolerated Francis while he was as stubborn as usual in making sure the higher ups did not interfere with what he felt strongly as his calling reminding all:
My brothers, the Lord has called me by the way of humility and he has shown me the way of simplicity. I do not want you to mention to me any other rule, neither that of Augustine, nor that of St. Benedict, nor that of St. Bernard. The Lord told me that he wanted me to be a new fool in the world and that He did not want to lead us by any other way than by that Wisdom, for by your learning and wisdom God will confound you.
With Francis disappointed but convinced to stay in Italy he had little groups, new Spiritual crusaders leave for all over Europe and even as far as Russia. In Germany some met with the ultimate sacrifice.
Francis' Second Peace Crusade
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.---Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Seeing the success the Message from the Lord sent outwards, Francis wanted to expand it to the Holy Lands in the hands of infidels; and he wanted to go himself this time. Some had died in Morocco, but out of Portugal, Anthony became another Franciscan saint. Giles and his Vicar of the group, Peter Catanei accompanied Francis to Egypt, to help with a peaceful transfer of lands. They arrived at Damietta where the Legate Pelagius instead of truce making with Saladin the Great's nephew, Sultan Malek-el-Kamel, was besieging the walled city of Damietta. Francis was exceedingly horrified at a grander scaled war scene than he had witnessed earlier in his life. Like a prophet of old, after this Apostle of Peace's advice was asked, he warned the soldiers that their attack would be viciously repelled, and failing to heed it caused them to indeed face a disaster where six thousand were killed or captured. By the autumn of that fateful year of 1219 Francis hatched a new plan, to go right through the lines to see the Sultan without the backing of the Legate. With brother Illuminato by his side, grey robed and barefooted they crossed the burning sands on another of his Knight of the Round Table type escapades. Kamel, told by his scouts of the approach of these madmen, or would-be converts to Islam, allowed them to come to his camp.
Inside Kamel's tent, with Francis standing on a carpet decorated with X's, Malek tested him right away laughing while he noticed:
I see you have no objection to tramping on the cross.
This is significant because that is exactly what they expected previous Christians to demonstrate to prove their faith as followers to the Koran. But, Francis, interested in the heart, and not the superficial answered:
You should know that there were many crosses on Calvary -- the cross of Christ and the crosses of the malefactors. We venerate the cross of Christ, but as for the others, you may keep them. And, if you want to cover the ground with them, why should we have scruples about walking on them?
After that, the Sultan called for his clerics, but they warned him:
We bid you in the name of Allah and Mohammad -who gave us the law- immediately behead these men, for we certainly will never hear whatever they teach. We plead with you too also not listen, for our law forbids us to listen to preachers of other laws.
The more tolerant Sultan was expected to ponder this after they left, but Francis offered a test:
Make a huge fire and let your holy men enter, and ours, and you will find out who is the most saintly and true.
Obviously Malek-el-Kamel did not put any to this ordeal, and he invited Francis to spend some more time together, for even though Kamel was not converted, he enjoyed the deep spiritual nature of Francis. Francis refused all lavish gifts offered him, save one brass horn, which he later used to call the faithful to his sermons. They were escorted safely back to the Christian front-lines, and today on the tomb of Fakir al Farisi is inscribed:
His adventure with Malek-el-Kamel, and all that happened in regard to a monk are very well known.
Francis left for Acre, to visit the Holy Land in 1220 near the time that Damietta fell. He stayed at the Port of St. John
at the Franciscan community founded by brother Elias. All the enjoyment of sharing the land of Jesus was interrupted by disturbing news from back home of forces attempting to change the rules of his order.
Keeping the Dream Alive
My mind's been going through them changes. ---Buddy Miles
Francis, when he reached Bologna asked where the lesser brothers were. And after he corroborated that their reply was correct that the friars were in lush new quarters, he went, as they say, ballistic. He just about literally threw everyone out including those with infirmities. He saw his demands of the small makeshigt luoghi in his Order evolve in his absence into the large organized communities similar to the other orders, and felt the pressure to copy their disciplines. Eventually there would be splits between the ultra-conservative, the veterans or 'Spirituals' (later called 'Observants') and the reformers or compromisers, the 'Conventuals'. These strifeful things were becoming more grueling hardships for Francis --who was always trying to keep himself and all lifted high with his usually poetic upbeat spirit. More difficult than living hand to mouth from the Hand of the Lord.
Now, Francis realized he had better get a stronger backing, and he went to Rome in 1220 and Honorius III made Ugolino the Order's Cardinal Protector and formally resigned as their leader, and turned that role over to Peter Catanei. His prayer out loud then and there perhaps consoled his followers:
Lord, into Thy hands I commend those whom Thou has committed to my care. Most dear Lord, my infirmities are such that I can no longer look after them so I commend them to the Minister. In the day of judgment they shall answer for them before You, Oh Lord, if any brother perish through their negligence, bad example or over-severity.
He foresaw his physical problems that continued to worsen, like his frailty, and especially his worsening blindness. Cardinal Ugolino helped dispel some of Francis' worries about housing given to the Order, as he told him they would belong to the Holy See. He had another fit of temper with another misunderstanding with a house in Assisi that he, feeble condition notwithstanding, climbed upon the roof and tore pieces of it off until he was told it was the town's gift.
Rules and Rulers
1221 continued to test Francis, Peter Catanei died, and Elias became the new Vicar General of the Order (and, who was to prove only after Francis' death to be a turncoat finally overcome by ambitious temptations.) He was urged to write a final Rule of the Order, and he had made several drafts trying to please his conscience as well as authorities or Provincials. He worked with the absent Ugolino's brother Cardinal, Regnierio. He explained it:
The ministers imagine that they can deceive the Lord and myself, though they know very well that all are bound to the observance of the Holy Gospel. I insist that both at the beginning of the Rule it be written that the brothers are strictly bound to observe the Holy Gospels of Jesus Christ. And that they may be for ever more without excuse, both as regards the past when I announced what the Lord gave me to speak to them and now when I announce it again that they and I may find salvation, I repeat that it is my will that the works they do before God should manifest these things and that with God's help so shall they act forever.
He went off to his beloved wild places to commune with his Lord, and was given a dream whereby bread crumbs, representing the Word of the Gospel, slipped through his fingers, and those morsels refused were to some's condemnation. He left his Testament:
In the name of obedience I forbid anyone, whosoever he may be, clerk or layman, to put glosses on the Rule and on this writing, to comment or to indicate how they ought to be understood. But as Our Lord has given me the grace to make them clearly and simply and observe them even until the end.
Ignoring his deteriorating health, he went to Rome with Cardinal Ugolino to present his Rule to Pope Honorius III. After enjoying their hospitality (which he helped by supplying panhandled food) he left Italy in 1223. Cardinal Ugolino had finally submitted his edited edition of the Rule that was approved by Pope Honorius in November of that year.1
Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. ---Traditional
Francis made Christmas memorable at Assisi that year of 1223. He made a living Creche in one of the hillside caves, with a huge turnout with torches and singing and all walks of life united in the Spirit of Peace, Joy and Truth. Francis presided, and sang the Gospels for everyone, and then preached that wonderful story of the birth of the King of Glory born in poverty, highlighted with drama as the Baby Jesus opened His eyes when Francis bent over the manger. An Easter party of 1224, however, caused him to chastise his group, after posing as a beggar, for feasting more than sharing.
Friars Agnellus of Pisa, Richard of Ingsworth, Richard of Devon, William of Esseby, Henry of Lombardy, and Lawrence of Beuvais landed at Dover and started the beginning of the pre-Reformation English Franciscans. (The latter upon returning to Italy was given the dying Francis' tunic, and brought this relic to England.)
Agony and Ecstasy
What more do you want Him to do? ---Rev. F.C. Barnes
Francis' thoughts in 1224 also became more ethereal with almost total blindness and crippling pain also his constant companion. In the summer of that year, with his "Three Companions" Leo, Angelo and Rufino he went, some say in retirement, to Monte La Verna for a pilgramage to catch Feasts of the Assumption and then Exaltation of the Holy Cross. He barely made it to Count Orlando's place, who promised to help them in any way with their prayers and anything else.
Francis' time to be alone and get in the Spirit and pour his heart out to the Lord was not for easing himself, or even his close brothers but was his discernment of the enormity and reality of what the Apostle Paul explained as a fight --
...not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spritual wickedness in high places. ---Ephesians 6:12
Francis saw himself in that battle, and even brother Leo who was one day was spying on Francis too closely, was warned by a fireball from Heaven, and Francis' words that that was only a preview of much more impressive things. He went on up further up the mountain on the day that was set aside for Exaltation of the Holy Cross for an answer to his deep-desired entreaty, that he feel two things, the real pain of the cross, and the Agape love that Jesus had to give Himself for fallen man.
No sooner than he finished uttering his request a Seraph flew down to Francis with six fiery wings and presented him with a man on a cross. After His position in front of Francis arrows white hot light shot across from Christ's wounds onto him. For the next couple of years of the rest of Francis' life he had scars on hands and feet, and a continually oozing wound on his side. These were definitely not the same as the psychosomatic stigmata that others have had; and knowing Francis' integrity he would not do the dishonest act of self-mutilation and call it otherwise.
Francis made sure brother Leo wrote down these words, which can be seen today at the large Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, his
Words of Praise of the Most High God:
Thou art the holy Lord God; Thou art God of Gods, Who alone dost marvellous things.
Thou art strong; Thou art great; Thou art most high.
Thou art Three in One and One in Three, Lord God of Gods.
Thou art good, all good, highest good, Lord God living and true.
Thou art love, charity; Thou art wisdom; Thou art humility; Thou art patience; Thou art fortitude and prudence; Thou art security; Thou art quiet; Thou art joy and gladness.
Thou art justice and temperance.
thou art our wealth and our plenty.
Thou art beauty; Thou art gentleness; Thou art the protector; Thou art the guide and defender.
Thou art our refuge and our strength; thou art our faith, our hope and our charity.
Thou art great sweetness to us.
Thou art our eternal life, infinite goodness, great and wonderful Lord God Almighty, loving and merciful Saviour.
On the back of Leo's dictated writing, with his own shaky penmanship, Francis comforted the eavesdropping brother with,
May the Lord bless thee and keep thee. May the Lord show thee His face and have mercy on thee. May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon thee and give thee peace.
May the Lord bless thee, Brother Leo.
And along with Leo's account of the events2
leading up to and including the Stigmata, was the T
of the Thau
The Finish Line
For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. ---Phillipians 1:21
The last days of Francis were painful and dark for him, and his followers. They moved him from place to place trying to find doctors that would do more good than harm (they did not), and resting places for his ravaged flesh. They were constantly worried about enemies stealing Francis body after his ensuing death, which was for Francis, "welcoming brother death," as a relic. But there were periods of Spritual heights as well, as Francis sung his
Canticle of Brother Sun
Oh Most High, Omnipotent, Sweet Lord,
To you belong the praise, the glory, the honor and all blessing.
To you alone, Most High, they look for life,
And no man has worth to say Your Name.
With all Your creatures, Lord, be praised,
Not least for Sir, our Brother Sun, who daily brings us light.
Beautiful and radiant in His great splendor,
How well he demonstrates Thee, Most High,
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon and stars,
Carved by You, clear and rich and fair.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Wind,
For air in every mood and time through whom you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and chaste.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
which lights us by night, fine and happy and healthy and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister, Mother Earth,
Who holds us up and keeps us straight, yielding different fruits and flowers of different hue, and grass.
Oh praise and bless my Lord,
Thanking him and serving him with great humility.
He added these verses after renewed fighting with old enemy, Perugia began:
Be praised, my Lord, for those who find forgiveness in their hearts for Your Love's sake,
and bear with sorrow and affliction.
Blessed they who bear these in peace.
Because by You, Most High, they will be crowned.
His final days, in 1226, safely in Assisi, which everyone wanted, were mixed with excruciation and bliss, Francis sang his song adding these last verses:
Praised be my Lord, for our Sister mortal death,
From whom no man alive will escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Blessed those who are found walking in Your most holy ways--
For the second death will bring them no harm.
He sang this with a visage of total peace at the very end. Sister Clare, reflecting everyone's dismay, upon seeing the body of the departed Francis cried a fitting mournful eulogy:
Father, Father, what will we do? Why do you desert us in our misery? Why do you leave us lost? Why did did you not let us go before you in joy, rather than leave us here in sorrow? What can we do here, enclosed behind these bars, now that never more, as in earlier times, you would come to visit us.? Now you have gone, all our consolation goes too, and buried to the world, we can have no further comfort. Who now will comfort us in such poverty, both spiritual and temporal? Oh, father of the poor, Oh, lover of poverty, who will now help us in the hour of temptation, now that you ---so wise and experienced in matters of the Spirit have gone? Who now will help the sufferings that overcome us ---have left us?
Francis was fittingly laid to rest at the Chapel of Saint George, for he really was the Knight who defeated that Old Dragon.
Some excerpts of Francis' Rule:
1. This is the rule and way of life of the Brothers Minor: to observe the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without personal belongings and in chastity...
2. If any wish to take up this way of life and join our brothers, they shall send them to the provincial ministers; to them alone, and to no others, permission is given to receive brothers. And the ministers shall carefully examine them in the Catholic faith and the sacraments of the church. And if they believe all these, and will confess them faithfully and observe them steadfastly to the end; and if they have no wives, or if they have them and the wives have already entered a convent... the ministers shall tell them, in the words of the gospel, to go and sell all they have and give it carefully to the poor. But if they are not able to do this, their good intention is enough...After that they shall be given the garments of the probationers: two gowns without hoods and a belt, and stockings and a cape reaching the belt...And, when the probationary year is over, they shall be received into obedience, promising always to observe this way of life and the rule...And those who have now promised obedience shall have one gown with a hood and another, if they wish it, without a hood. And those who really need them may wear shoes. And all the brother shall wear humble garments, and may repair them with sackcloth and other remnants, with God's blessing...
3. The clerical brothers shall perform the divine service according to the order of the holy Roman Church...And they shall fast from the feast of All Saints to the Nativity of the Lord; but as to the holy season of Lent...those who fast during this time shall be blessed of the Lord, and those who do not wish to fast shall not be bound to do so. At other times the brothers shall not be bound to fast except on Friday; but when there is a compelling reason the brothers shall not be bound to observe a physical fast. But I advise, warn and exhort my brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ that, when they go into the world, they shall not quarrel, nor contend with words, nor judge each other. But let them be gentle, peaceable, modest, merciful and humble, as is fitting. They ought not to ride, except when infirmity or necessity clearly compels them to do so...
4. I strictly command all the brothers never to receive coins or money either directly or through an intermediary. The ministers and guardians alone shall make provision, through spiritual friends, for the needs of the infirm and for other brothers who need clothing.
6. The brothers shall possess nothing, neither a house, nor a place, nor anything. But, as pilgrims and strangers in this world, serving God in poverty and humility, they shall continually seek alms, and not be ashamed, for the Lord made himself poor in this world for us...And if any of them fall sick, the other brothers are bound to minister to them as they would themselves would wish to be ministered to...
11. I strictly charge all the brethren not to hold conversation with with women so as to arouse suspicion, nor to take counsel with them...
12. Whoever of the brothers by divine inspiration may wish to go among the Saracens and other infidels shall seek permission from their provincial ministers. But the ministers shall give permission to go to none but those whom they see to be fit for the mission.
Furthermore I charge the minister on their obedience that they demand from the lord Pope one of the cardinals of the holy Roman Church, who shall be the governor, corrector and protector of the fraternity, so that, always submissive and lying at the feet of that same holy Church, steadfast in the Catholic faith, we may observe poverty and humility, and the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we have firmly presented.
2 Leo's Account of Francis' Stigmata
The blessed Francis, two years before his death, kept a forty day's fast in the place called La Verna in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary mother of God and of the Blessed Archangel Michael, from the feast of the Assumption of the holy Virgin Mary until the feast of St. Michael in September. And the hand of the Lord was upon him. After the vision and speech which he had of the seraph and the impression of the stigmata of Christ in his body, he made these praises on the other side of the sheet and with his own hand he wrote them out, giving thanks to God for the blessing conferred upon him.
Why this man is a hero to me would be that he had more courage and conviction than almost any man other than Jesus Christ Himself. I only wish I could get a small percentage of what Francis had --to really live by faith in the Lord, alone. He is an example how Christians can be truly Spiritual no matter what time they are from, or what "denomination." Indeed he is an inspiration to all people, no matter where they are. Note: I am not nor have never been a Roman Catholic, but we should never be prejudiced when it comes to seeing honor in any person.
Michael de la Bedoyere, Francis: A Biography of the Saint of Assisi, NY: Harper and Row, 1962.
Tim Dowley, ed., Eerdmans Handbook to the History of Christianity, Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1987.
Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (Vol. I), Harper and Row: San Francisco; 1975.
John D. Woodbridge, ed., Great Leaders of the Christian Church, Moody: Chicago; 1988.
Jill Haak Adels, The Wisdom of the Saints: An Anthology, NY: Oxford Press, 1987.
Leonard Foley, O.F.M., Who Was St. Francis?, Saint of the Day, (and other prayers and articles) http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Francis/Who_was.asp.
John Bookster Feister, St. Francis Preaches to the Birds, St. Francis, Rabbits and Fish, St. Francis and the Wolf. http://www.AmericanCatholic.org
Patti Normile, The Canticle of Brother Sun excerpted from "Prayer", Francis of Assisi: A Spirituality for Daily Living St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1996
Note: Franciscans today are especially concerned about the Middle East and the use of war as an instrument of peace.
See Becca's Miracle of the Grapes too.