March 14, 2013

Who is St. Francis of Assisi?

In a nod of tribute to the newly elected Christian leader, Pope Francis, the simplexlife posts an article which first appeared here previously:

The Prayer of Saint Francis
Sung by Sarah McLaughlin

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
where there is sadness, joy

O 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

Who is Francis of Assisi that the world should recollect him still, nearly 1,000 years beyond his lifetime? The "Peace Prayer" of St. Francis has become a very well known attribute. However further search turns up that he did not write it at all, though it so well expresses the aims of Saint Francis of Assisi. It was written first in French about 1912, appearing in the journal, La Clochette, the poem written by an unknown author.
As for the flesh and blood Francis of Assisi, the saint's early life gave no indication of his future virtue. No one loved pleasure more than Francis; he had a quick wit, sang freely and often, delighted in fine food, clothes, women and ostentation. Handsome, cheerful, and chivalrous, he soon became most popular among the young nobles of Assisi, the very king of frolic. Still, he showed an instinctive sympathy with the poor, and though he spent money freely, he spent in such sums as to demonstrate a charity of spirit.

When about twenty, Francis went out with the townsmen to box and battle the Perugians (a neighboring region, Perugia) in one of the petty skirmishes so frequent at that time between the rival cities. The Assisians were defeated this time, Francis, was taken prisoner, was held captive for more than a year in Perugia. A low fever which he there contracted apparently turned his thoughts to spiritual matters, or at least to reflect upon the emptiness of the life he had been leading. 

With better health, Francis' eagerness to chase after after glory was restored; he wandered in search of opportunity for victory. Initially a military career appealed to him. His biographers record a story that the night before Francis was to set forth, he had a strange dream, in which he saw a great hall hung with armor, all marked with Crosses. "These", said a voice, "are for you and your soldiers." Francis had another dream in which the same voice told him to turn back to Assisi. With a change of heart, he did follow the voice this time and returned to Assisi in 1205 C.E..

His changed demeanor demonstrated that his heart was no longer attached to frivolities; a yearning for the life of the spirit had possessed him. As if to put his nature to the test, he exchanged clothes with a ragged beggar man and stood for the rest of the day without food or drink among the horde of beggars at the door of the church in Rome. He developed his beliefs strongly over time; the saint's convictions were simple and practical; he was no slave to theory or dogma in regard to the practice of Charity, or anything else. There was nothing fanatical or narrow about his way. He stuck to the roots of simplicity which figured so largely into his spiritual life and ideals, so that nothing threatened to stifle the spirit of prayer which he thought preferable to anything he had experienced prior.

Francis was nonetheless deeply a mystic in the truest sense of the word. The whole world was to him one shining, sun filled ascent, he climbed forward into the sky, ascending like a ladder, closer and closer to the source, to behold his love, his Lord.

This is a bit about who Francis is, and about those who would want to follow him. Watch, and the world is watching too!

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