I’ve recently been thinking about my journey to becoming a Franciscan. Of all of the Orders in the Roman Catholic Church, I never ever contemplated becoming a Franciscan. Most of it was because I knew very little about St. Francis himself.
For the most part, my vision of St. Francis was the same as those that popular culture presents us with: the author of the Peace Prayer, a man who was the Medieval version of Dr. Doolittle, and one who was always at peace with everything around him. Yet these stereotypes do not even begin to reveal the kind of person that Francis truly was and the things that he brought to the world and the people in it.
For starters, St. Francis was someone who modeled his life very much on the life of Christ Himself. He spent most of his life as a friar in complete poverty. In fact, he loved poverty so much that he would physically climb up on the roof of a monastery that he felt was too rich and take down the tiles with his own bare hands. There are also stories about how he would constantly exhort his brother to be poor and to live as the poor did. In fact, he didn’t think that there was anything wrong with going around and begging for one’s food and drink from other people. While it may have been disgusting for others, it was by no means so for Francis or his followers. In fact, they ate whatever was given to them.
Another thing about Francis outside of his poverty was the fact that he was always joyful. The thing is that I always see St. Francis smiling. Even when he was stern with his disciples and ordered them not to do certain things, I can still see him smiling in some way. His joy was something that brought hundreds of thousands to meet him and yet his joy was also tempered by another wonderful virtue: simplicity.
If anything, the life of St. Francis is one in which simplicity is extremely profound. If one reads the writings of St. Francis, one does not find the eloquence or eruditeness of a St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine. But what one does find in abundance is a point of view that is simple.
The “Canticle of the Creatures” is one of the most beautiful and profound prayers to come from the pen of any writer. It speaks to St. Francis’s love of all creation including the animals, the sun, the moon, and the stars. For Francis, everything in nature was his brother or sister. The thing is that Francis saw in everything and everybody, Christ Himself.
Indeed, it was that vision of Christ in all things that motivated Francis to do the things that he did. And God, in His mercy, rewarded Him abundantly for it.