St. Francis was many things to many different people. Above all else, he was a man who burned with an intense love of God that burst into flame. Like the Seraphim, this love enveloped St. Francis’s heart and it spread to all who met him. St. Francis’s loving heart animated the Franciscans to go out and preach the Gospel to all those that needed to hear it. It was this same spirit that impelled him to go out and embrace Lady Poverty. Above all, it was this love of God that made him a saint.
Yet the journey of St. Francis to those final years and days is one that many people today would not believe. St. Francis was, like many other young men, one who sought glory in this world. It was only after a severe illness that he realized his life lay elsewhere. As the events of his life unfolded, things began to change for him. He began to see Christ Himself in the lepers and the sick men that he met along the road. He took his father’s money and helped an old priest to rebuild a decrepit church. This brought down his father’s ire, but it also showed St. Francis’s faith and love of Divine Providence. For when he divested himself of his father’s clothes and threw them at his feet, he said that he had no father except his Heavenly Father.
St. Francis too was a man of deep and lively faith. When his first brothers approached him, he opened the Gospels three times. Each and every time, his eyes fell on the same passage. He felt by this that the brothers were called by God to live with him as Franciscans. These early brothers such as Brother Bernard and Brother Juniper were the first members of the Franciscan family. They followed St. Francis’s example in everything including his lively faith, while preserving their own individuality.
Yet above all St. Francis is a saint, who perfectly imitated Christ. In his poverty and obedience to God’s will, St. Francis lived Christ’s message to the full. Like Christ, St. Francis received many people as friends and did not turn any one away. It did not matter if the person was rich, poor, bishop, priest, or tax collector, St. Francis received them all as Christ received the people sitting around Levi’s table. St. Francis saw Christ in all the people that he met and many people saw Christ Himself in St. Francis.
Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, St. Francis was able to converse with the animals and they attentively listened to him. The wolf of Gubbio readily nodded his head and listened to St. Francis’s words, while the birds of the air listened to his sermons. Years later, the fishes would listen to another disciple of St. Francis, St. Anthony of Padua.
Not only this, of course, but St. Francis was a troubadour of God’s love. Everywhere he went in the countryside of his native Umbria, the hills resounded with the sound of his songs. He love God above all things and he sang his praises until he died. He saw in all of creation and in every human being, the unique designs of God. In things such as fire, water, air, and death, St. Francis saw them as his brothers and sisters. Everything living was a sign of God’s love and St. Francis sang about it.
St. Francis was a visionary too, who sough to restore Christ’s church. He may not have always understood the meaning of the visions that he was granted, but he understood that God wanted Him to do something. In rebuilding the churches of Assisi, St. Francis was physically living the call that he had received from the crucifix at San Damiano. But in establishing an order of friars that would help to restore the Church, St. Francis had done something much more than putting stones together and rebuilding collapsing walls. He had started an order that would endure long after his death and into our own time.
To this very day, Franciscans throughout the world strive to live as St. Francis did. Povery, chastity, and obedience are the still the benchmarks of their rule and St. Francis’s love of God and His creatures is apparent in each of the men that God has called to His service. Of course, no two Franciscans friars are alike and each one of them exhibits some different aspect of the Franciscan spirit. Yet this should not surprise us at all because St. Francis was such a multi-faceted individual.
Let us give thanks on this great feast day of St. Francis for all of the things that God has done through him for Holy Mother Church and let us pray for Franciscan vocations, which are so sorely needed in our day and age.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!