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Who is Saint Francis of Assisi?

Saint Francis of AssisiFrancis is so touchable. These days, when we see young men dressing in the latest fashions, driving the newest sports car, playing guitars, partying all the time, and chasing girls, we have a tendency to shake our heads, and mumble under our breath, admonitions like, “They’ll turn out bad.” That may be so; but that was also Francis.

Francis came from money. His father, Pietro di Bernardone, was in the garment business. The common term for it today would be the rag business. He imported most of his fabric from France. He loved France, because he made so much money there. For that reason, he named his son Francesco, in honor of France. Pietro’s god was money, and he embraced that god with a passion. His wife, Pica, on the other hand, was a very spiritual lady. She was Francesco’s spiritual influence during his youth. The Lord used the strength of his mother to create a balance in his life, and to bring Francis to Him when the time was right.

Pietro had great hopes for his oldest son, Francesco, even though he was a frail and sickly boy. In those days, merchants were not nobility, nor were nobility merchants. Pietro could probably have bought and sold many of the elite in Assisi, but that still did not make him aristocratic. He counted on this son to bring him into that exalted circle of the town. Francis was groomed all his life to be a knight. He wore the finest clothes. He learned to play five musical instruments. He was the life of the party. There were many parties. That was part of the training. Young Francesco di Bernardone was the party-planner of his time, and the most sought-after party guest of his clique. And he loved it! He enjoyed learning the role he was to play.

Signor, che cosa vuole? (Lord, what do you want?)

Although there was not much to wage war over in the little village of Assisi, shiny coats of armor were the fashion statement of the time, and naturally, the son of Pietro di Bernardone had to have the best coat of armor available. He had a handsome horse. He did everything that was required of an up-and-coming member of a noble society. The proper course of action for a young man of Francis’ station was to go off to war, somewhere, anywhere.

He looked for a battle to fight, a cause to champion. A controversy arose between Assisi and Perugia, a nearby town. Francis leapt to the challenge. He went off to war. But the Lord’s plan was not for Francis to be a warrior, by the world’s standards. He was destined to be a warrior for the Gospel. So Francis was captured early in the game. He avoided being killed, but was imprisoned, until such time as a ransom could be paid. It took almost a year before he was released. He went back to Assisi, sick, but not deterred. He was going to find a war, if it was the last thing he did.

The Lord began chipping away at his heart during his recuperation period. He had a dream, in which he saw his father’s house as a palace, with luxurious furnishings, and a beautiful wife. The dream was to become a prophecy, only the palace was the House of God, and the wife was Lady Poverty. One day, he traded clothes with a beggar, in the tradition of St. Martin of Tours. Values were changing for young Francesco. But he was still determined to find a war.

His opportunity came when Assisi joined with the Papal forces to do battle in Apulia, near the boot of Italy. Francis, and a group of young men from Assisi, set out for the war zone. He got as far as Spoleto, fifty miles away, where he stayed overnight. The Lord spoke to his heart. “Francis, whom do you choose, the Master or the servant?” Francis answered, “The Master - Lord, what do you want me to do?”

“Return to your own place,” he was instructed. “You will be told what to do. Your dream has to be interpreted differently; the palace and arms you saw are for other knights than those you had in mind; and your principality will be of another order.”

Francis did not go to war. He returned to Assisi, a changed young man. He was not the party lover he had been in the past. He spent time off by himself, listening, waiting for the Lord to tell him what He wanted of him. The Lord made Francis’ senses very keen. After He had cleared out all the garbage in Francis’ head, his eyes became very clear; his ears sharp; his nose could smell odors, rather than just the sweet fragrances he had been used to all his life. He began to see the poor, hear their cries, and smell the squalor they lived in. He could not reconcile that his family had so much, and these people so little. It didn’t make any sense. He felt the need to balance things. So, in his simplicity, he took valuables from his home and cloth from his father, converted them into money, and gave it to the poor.

One time his mother saw him putting many, many loaves of bread in a sack. When she asked what this was for, he replied he wanted to share the bread with the poor. He had made a commitment to give alms to the poor. His mother attributed this strange behavior to the illness he had come down with during his imprisonment. His father was not as kind. He labeled Francis as “pazzo” (crazy).


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