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Saint Francis of Assisi - San Francesco d'Assisi

Mystic & Founder of the Franciscans - from Assisi, Italy
c 1181 - 3 October 1226
Canonised in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX in Assisi
Feast Day - 4th October

Both Leo XIII & Pius XI wrote encyclicals on St Francis: Auspicato Concessum (in 1882) & Rite Expiatis (in 1926). St John Paul II was three times a pilgrim to Assisi: in 1982, 1986 & 1993. Papa Benedict XVI was twice a pilgrim, in 2007 & 2011, and Pope Francis has visited Assisi on the feast of St Francis 2013 & then again in 2016.

3 2us by Fr Emmanuel Mansford CFR      
"St Francis had everything - from a very wealthy family, properous father, very popular young man, bit of a party boy, went off to be a knight when he was about 20 which was sort of the equivalent of being the winner of the X-Factor, very respected and loved by his friends, the one who was at the centre of the life in Assisi - and yet when Jesus came into his life, it was like a revolution for him and he simply responded whole-heartedly. Just as he had given himself totally to partying, totally to fighting in the war, suddenly when Christ comes into his life he's changed and the encouraging thing for all of us is that it wasn't just overnight. Sometimes we think with the saints they're bad and then they become good but for Francis it was probably over a period of 5 years where Jesus is taking more and more of his heart captive."

Tom, a seminarian, chose Francis as his Incredible Saint      
"I have been really caught up with St Francis of Assisi since being a teenager. One of the ways that I was inspired by him is the way that he tried to follow in the footsteps of Christ in 3 different areas: through the Incarnation, through the Cross and through the Eucharist. The Incarnation of Christ coming to us as a child, and the way he held the manger up to people, but also how God is in the world in the face of our neighbour, in creation, and is to praised in all things. The cross for St Francis was the centre part of his following of Christ, of taking up the cross, of that complete outpouring of love; so much so, that he talked about carrying the cross on his own back and he actually received the wounds of Christ on his own body, he was so enveloped in the passion of Christ. And the Eucharist for St Francis was the most important thing about is spirituality, about his relationship with Jesus, that meeting in the Eucharist which has been given to the Church and that wonderful opportunity of communion with Christ each day. And for me there are 3 simple words that sum that spirituality: blessed, broken and given - and that is what St Francis means to me."

Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI      
General Audience, Wednesday 27 January 2010 - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In a recent catechesis, I have already illustrated the providential role that the Order of Friars Minor and the Order of Friar Preachers, founded
respectively by St Francis of Assisi and St Dominic de Guzman, had in the renewal of the Church in their time. Today I would like to present to you the figure of Francis, an authentic "giant" of holiness, who continues to fascinate so many people of every age and every religion.

"A sun was born into the world". With these words, in the Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto XI), the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri alludes to the birth of Francis, which took place in Assisi at the end of 1181 or the beginning of 1182. Belonging to a wealthy family - his father was a cloth merchant -, Francis spent a carefree adolescence and youth, cultivating the chivalrous ideals of the time. At twenty, he took part in a military campaign and was taken prisoner. He fell ill and was freed. After his return to Assisi, a slow process of spiritual conversion began in him, which
gradually brought him to abandon the worldly lifestyle that he had practiced up until then. Dating from this period are the famous episodes of his meeting with a leper to whom Francis, getting off his horse, gave the kiss of peace, and of the message from the Crucifix in the small Church of St Damian. Three times Christ on the Cross came to life, and told him: "Go, Francis, and repair my Church in ruins." This simple event of the word of God heard in the Church of St Damian hides a profound symbolism. St Francis was immediately called to repair this little church, but the ruinous state of this building was a symbol of the dramatic and disquieting situation of the Church herself at that time, with a superficial faith that did not form or transform life, with a clergy that was hardly zealous, with a chilling of love; an interior destruction of the Church that also brought a decomposition of unity, with the birth of heretical movements. However, in the centre of this Church in ruins was the Crucified Lord and he spoke: he called for renewal, he called Francis to the manual labour of concretely repairing the little Church of St Damian, symbol of the deeper call to renew the very Church of Christ, with her radicality of faith and her enthusiasm of love for Christ. This event, which probably occurred in 1205, makes one think of another similar event which took place in 1207: the dream of Pope Innocent III. He saw in a dream the Basilica of St John Lateran, mother of all churches, collapsing and a small and insignificant religious brother supporting the church on his shoulders so that it didn't fall. It is interesting to note, on the one hand, that it was not the Pope who gave the help for the church not to collapse but a small and insignificant religious brother, whom the Pope recognized in Francis when he later visited him. Innocent III was a powerful Pope, of great theological culture, as well as of great political power, however it was not he who renewed the Church but the small and insignificant religious brother: it was St Francis, called by God. On the other hand, however, it is important to note that St Francis did not renew the Church either without or against the Pope, but only in communion with him. The two realities go together: the Successor of Peter, the Bishops, the Church founded on the succession of the Apostles and the new charism that the Holy Spirit created at that time to renew the Church. Together true renewal grew.

Let us return to the life of St Francis. Since his father Bernardone reproved of him for being too generous to the poor, Francis, in front of the Bishop of Assisi, with a symbolic gesture stripped off his clothes, intending thus to renounce his paternal inheritance: as at the moment of being created, Francis did not have anything except the life that God had given him, into whose hands he entrusted himself. He then lived as a hermit until, in 1208, another fundamental event in the itinerary of his conversion
took place. Listening to a passage from the Gospel of Matthew - Jesus' discourse to the apostles sent out on mission -, Francis felt called to live in poverty and dedicate himself to preaching. Other companions joined him and in 1209 he traveled to Rome, to submit to Pope Innocent III the project of a new form of Christian life. He received a fatherly welcome from this great Pontiff who, illuminated by the Lord, intuited the divine origin of the movement awakened by Francis. The Poverello of Assisi had understood that every charism given by the Holy Spirit should be placed at the service of the Body of Christ, which is the Church; therefore he always acted in full communion with ecclesiastical authority. In the lives of the saints there is no conflict between prophetic charism and the charism of governance and, if any tension is created, they know to wait with patience for the timings of the Holy Spirit.

In reality, several historians in the
19th and also the last century tried to create behind the Francis of tradition a so-called historical Francis, just as they tried to create behind the Jesus of the Gospels a so-called historical Jesus. Such an historical Francis would not have been a man of the Church, but a man linked immediately only to Christ, a man who wanted to create a renewal of the people of God, without canonical form and without hierarchy. The truth is that St Francis really had a very immediate relationship with Jesus and with the word of God, which he wanted to follow sine glossa, just as it was, in all its radicality and truth. It is also true that initially he had no intention of creating an Order with the necessary canonical forms but, simply, with the word of God and the presence of the Lord, he had wanted to renew the people of God, calling them anew to listening to the word and to literal obedience to Christ. Moreover, he knew that Christ is never "mine", but is always "ours", that "I" cannot have Christ and that "I" cannot rebuild in opposition to the Church, her will and her teaching, but only in communion with the Church built on the succession of the Apostles is obedience to the word of God also renewed.

It is also true that he had no intention of creating a new order, but only of renewing the people of God for the Lord who comes. But he understood through suffering and pain that everything must have its own order, that the law of the Church is also necessary to give form to renewal and thus he really placed himself in a total way, with his heart, in the communion of the Church, with the Pope and with the Bishops. He always knew that the centre of the Church is the Eucharist, where the Body and Blood of Christ become present. By means of the priesthood, the Eucharist is the Church. Where the Priesthood and Christ and communion of the Church go together, only there dwells also the word of God. The true historical Francis is the Francis of the Church and precisely in this way he also speaks to non-believers, to believers of other confessions and religions.

Francis and his
ever more numerous brother established themselves at the Porziuncula, or the Church of St Mary of the Angels, the sacred place par excellence of Franciscan spirituality. Clare, a young woman of Assisi from a noble family, also placed herself at the school of Francis. Thus was the origin of the Second Franciscan Order, that of the Poor Clares, another experience destined to produce outstanding fruits of holiness in the Church.

The successor of Innocent III, Pope Honorius III, with his bull Cum Dilecti of 1218 also supported the singular development of the first Friars Minor, who were opening missions in various countries in Europe, and even in Morocco. In 1219 Francis obtained permission to go to speak with the Muslim sultan Malik al-Klmil
in EgyptEGYPT, to preach the Gospel of Jesus there too. I want to underline this episode in the life of St Francis, which is very timely. In an era in which there was a clash underway between Christianity and Islam, Francis, deliberately armed only with his faith and his personal gentleness, traveled the way of dialogue with efficacy. The chronicles tell us of a benevolent welcome and cordial reception by the Muslim sultan. It is a model that today should also inspire relations between Christians and Muslims: to promote a dialogue in truth, in reciprocal respect and mutual understanding (cf Nostra Aetate, 3). It seems then that in 1220 Francis visited the Holy Land, thus sowing a seed which would bear much fruit: his spiritual sons, in fact, made a privileged space of their mission in the places where Jesus had lived. With gratitude I think today of the great merits of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Returning to Italy, Francis consigned the governance of the Order to his vicar, Friar Pietro Cattani, while the Order, which gathered more and more followers, was entrusted by the Pope to the protection of Cardinal Ugolino, the future Supreme Pontiff Gregory IX. For his part the Founder, totally dedicated to preaching which met with great success, drew up a Rule, later approved by the Pope.

In 1224, in the hermitage of La Verna, Francis saw the Crucified Lord in the form of a seraphim and from the encounter with the crucified seraphim, he received the stigmata; thus he became one with Christ crucified: a gift, henceforth, which expressed his intimate identification with the Lord.

The death of Francis - his own transitus - occurred on the evening of 3 October 1226, at the Porziuncula. After having blessed his spiritual children, he died, lying on the bare ground. Two years later Pope Gregory IX inscribed him in the roll of the saints. Shortly after, a great basilica was built in his honour in Assisi, still today a destination for many pilgrims, who can venerate the tomb of the saint and enjoy the vision of Giotto's frescoes, a painter who has illustrated the life of Francis
in a magnificent way.

It has been said that Francis represents an alter Christus, that he was truly a living icon of Christ. He has also been called "the brother of Jesus". In fact, this was his ideal: to be like Jesus, to contemplate the Christ of the Gospel, to love him intensely, to imitate his virtues. In particular, he wished to give a fundamental value to interior and exterior poverty, teaching this also to his spiritual children. The first beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount - "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5, 3) - found a luminous realization in the life and words of St Francis. Truly, dear friends, the saints are the best interpreters of the Bible; incarnating the Word of God in their own lives, they render it more attractive than ever, so that it really speaks to us. The witness of Francis, who loved poverty so as to follow Christ with dedication and total freedom, continues to be for us too an invitation to cultivate interior poverty so as to to grow in trust of God, combining a sober lifestyle with a detachment from material goods.

In Francis love for Christ expressed itself in a special way in adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. Moving expressions can be read
in the Franciscan Sources, such as: "Let all of humanity fear, the entire universe tremble and the heavens exult, when on the altar, in the hands of the priest, there is Christ, the Son of the living God. Oh stupendous favour! O humble sublimity, that the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, so humbles himself as to hide himself for our salvation, under the modest form of bread" (Francis of Assisi, Writings, Franciscan Publishers, Padua 2002, 401).

In this Year for Priests, it pleases me to recall as well a recommendation addressed by Francis to priests: "When you wish to celebrate Mass, in a pure way, with reverence carry out the true sacrifice of the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Francis of Assisi, Writings, 399). Francis always showed a great deference towards priests, and recommended that they always be respected, even in cases where they personally were hardly worthy. The motivation for this profound respect was the fact that they have received the gift of consecrating the Eucharist. Dear brothers in the priesthood, let us never forget this teaching: the holiness of the Eucharist calls us to be pure, to live in a way coherent with the Mystery that we celebrate.

From the love for Christ is born love towards persons and also towards all God's creatures. Here is another characteristic trait of Francis' spirituality: the sense of universal brotherhood and love for created matter, which inspired his famous Canticle of creatures. It is a very timely message. As I recalled in my recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate, only a development that respects creation and does not damage the environment is sustainable (cf n 48-52) and in the Message for the World Day of Peace this year I underlined that the construction of a solid peace is also linked to respect for created matter. Francis reminds us that in creation is unfolded the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator. Nature is for him understood precisely as a language in which God speaks with us, in which reality becomes transparent and we can speak of God and with God.

Dear friends, Francis was a great saint and a joyful man. His simplicity, his humility, his faith, his love for Christ, his goodness towards every man and every woman made him happy in every situation. Indeed,
there subsists an intimate and indissoluble relationship between holiness and joy. A French writer said that in the world there is only one sadness: that of not being saints, that is, of not being close to God. Looking at the witness of St Francis, we understand that this is the secret of true happiness: to become saints, close to God!

May the Virgin, so tenderly loved by Francis, obtain this gift for us. We entrust ourselves to her with the words of the Poverello of Assisi himself: "Holy Virgin Mary, no one like you among women has ever been born in the world, daughter and handmaid of the Most High King and heavenly Father, Mother of our Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, spouse of the Holy Spirit: pray for us... to your most holy beloved Son, Lord and Master" (Francis of Assisi, Writings, 163)."

Fr Emmanuel Mansford on the CFRs       
"The Franciscan Friars of Renewal are a new community in the Franciscan tradition, founded in 1987 by 8 men who were already Franciscans from the Capuchin branch of the Franciscan Order. St Francis lived 800 years ago and began the order that we now call the Franciscans. As a young man he had a powerful conversion experience of the love of Jesus and gave everything away in response to the Gospel where it says 'take nothing with you for the journey, neither gold nor silver, nor haversack nor staff and go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor.' And so he responded radically to the words of Jesus and began to live as a poor man, preaching and caring for the poor, for the lepers. Within months other men came to join, so much so that after 20 years there were 5000 friars in Europe. That was 800 years ago. In 1987 the friars who began our community left the Capuchins because they wanted to recover and rediscover something of the orginal inspiration of St Francis. So they were given permission by the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Cardinal O'Connor, at the time to begin this little reform in New York, in the Bronx. They were given an old parish church that was fallen down. The area was known as Fort Apache because it was an area characterised for riots and drugs and burnt out buildings. So they moved into this poor little area with $800 and there were 8 friars. They began to just live a Franciscan life together, a life of prayer, fraternity and service of the poor, preaching of the Gospel. Little by little, God has blessed us and there are now 120 friars in 15 friaries in different places throughout the world."

Blessed John Paul II: (16.01.82)

"St Francis! We all know what the birth of the great Saint of Assisi has meant for mankind!

With him, Dante said, "a sun was born to the world." There are many reasons why he exerted and goes on exerting a marked fascination in the Church, and outside her as well: his was an optimistic vision of the whole of creation as the epiphany of God and the homeland of Christ, whom he celebrated in his very well known "Canticle of Creatures"; he chose poverty as the expression of his whole life, and called it "My Lady - Madonna", the term used by knights to their ladies and by Christians to the Mother of God.

But supporting it was an integrally practiced theological virtue. He rarely calls it by name, because it became his state of mind and made him concentrate everything on God, made him expect everything from Him, made him happy not to possess anything but from Him. He expressed this state of mind in passionate tones in the "Chartula", the "Little Charter", which he gave to Friar Leo on Mount La Verna: "Thou art the good, very good, the supreme good, Lord, God living and true ... Thou art our hope." Yes, because true hope, this gift of the Spirit which does not disappoint derives from unique certainty that "the Son of God ... loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).

Recovery of this certainty is urgent for the world of today, furrowed by so many disquiets, which are like an assault upon the hope brought by Christ to all: "Take courage! I have overcome the world" (Jn 16:33)."

St Bonaventure - in Life of Saint François, Legenda major:

One day while he was devoutly hearing a Mass of the Apostles, the Gospel was read in which Christ sends out his disciples to preach and gives them the Gospel form of life, that they may not keep “gold or silver or money in their belts, nor have a wallet for their journey, nor may they have two tunics, nor shoes, nor staff." Hearing, understanding and committing this to memory, this friend of apostolic poverty was then overwhelmed with an indescribable joy. "This is what I want," he said, "this is what I desire with all my heart!" Immediately, he took off the shoes from his feet. put down his staff, denounced his wallet and money, and, satisfied with one tunic, threw away his leather belt and put on a piece of rope for a belt. He directed all his heart's desire to carry out what he had heard and to conform in every way to the rule of right living given to the apostles.

Through divine prompting the man of God began to become a model of evangelical perfection and to invite others to penance. His statements were... filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they penetrated the marrow of the heart, so that they moved those hearing them in stunned amazement. In all his preaching, he announced peace by saying: "May/he Lordgiveyou peace." Thus he greeted the people at the beginning of his talk. As he later testified, he had learned this greeting by the Lord revealing it to him...

Therefore, as the truth of the man of God's simple teaching and life became known to many, some men began to be moved to penance and, abandoning all things, joined him in habit and life. (ch. 3 - trans. ©Franciscan Institute of Saint Bonaventure University, 2000)

St Francis' Letter to all the faithful (2nd version)

Oh, how happy and blessed are those who love God and do as the Lord himself says in the Gospel: "You shall love the lord your God with all your heart and all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself." Let us love God, therefore, and adore Him with a pure heart and a pure mind...

And let us love our neighbours as ourselves. And if there is anyone who does not wish to love them as himself, at least let him do no harm to them, but rather do good. But those who have received the power to judge others should exercise judgement with mercy as they themselves desire to receive mercy from the Lord... Let us then have charity and humility; let us give alms since this washes our souls from the stains of our sins. For people lose everything they leave behind in this world; but they carry with them the rewards of charity and the alms which they gave, for which they will have a reward and a suitable remuneration from the Lord...

Upon all men and women, if they have done these things and have persevered to the end, the Spirit of the Lord will rest and he will make his home and dwelling among them. They will be children of the heavenly Father whose works they do. And they are spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ... Oh, how glorious it is, how holy and great, to have a Father in heaven! Oh, how holy, consoling, beautiful and wondrous it is to have a Spouse! Oh, how holy... humble, peaceful, sweet, lovable, and desirable above all things to have such a Brother and Son, who laid down his life for his sheep and who prayed to the Father for us, saying: "Holy Father, protect those in your name whom you have given to me...; and I wish, Father, that where I am they also may be with me so that they may see my glory in your kingdom."

St Francis's First Rule, 17

In the love that is God, I beg all my brothers – those who preach, those who pray, those who work manually, clerics and lay brothers – to make every effort towards being humble in all things; not to glorify themselves, to find their joy or to become interiorly proud because of good words and good actions, which God sometimes says or does in them or through them. According to the Lord's word: “Do not rejoice... in the fact that the devils are subject to you.” (Lk 10:20) Let us be firmly convinced of the fact that of ourselves we have only faults and sins. Let us rather rejoice in trials when, in our soul and in our body, we have to bear all kinds of tribulations in this world for eternal life.

Brothers, let us thus beware of all pride and vainglory; let us beware of the wisdom of this world and of selfish prudence. The person who is enslaved by his selfish tendencies puts a great deal of effort into making speeches, but much less into passing on to action. Instead of seeking the interior religion and sanctity of the spirit, he desires an external religion and sanctity that are very visible to the eyes of human beings. It is of them that the Lord said: “You can be sure of this much, they are already repaid.” (Mt 6:2) On the contrary, the person who is docile to the Lord's spirit wants to humiliate what is selfish, vile and abject in the flesh. He puts great effort into being humble and patient, with pure simplicity and true peace of spirit. What he desires always above all other things is childlike fear of God, wisdom of God and love of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.