by Fr. Walt Wainwright

In our liturgy today we are not officially celebrating the feast of St. Francis of Assisi because this year his feast day falls on a Sunday.  Please allow me a little freedom and I will share with you some thoughts about this most popular saint in our faith tradition and beyond.

Francis was born in Assisi, Italy the son of a rather wealthy merchant.  In his youth Francis was a rather spoiled child as his family could give him whatever he wanted and as he grew older he was a young man who always had money in his pockets and so was always popular and could always be the one to treat his peers.

That very easy-going way of life took a drastic turn however because of such instances as war, sickness and imprisonment during his years of early adulthood.  It was during those years and very much because of those experiences that Francis underwent a very profound conversion in the manner in which he chose to live and act.

During the time when he was searching for what he thought God wanted him to do in serving Him, we often read about an episode when Francis was walking in the countryside and came upon the ruins of a chapel. Francis paused there and began to pray for God’s guidance.  The account goes that he experienced a sort of vision and in that vision the voice of God spoke to him and said, “Francis, rebuild my church.”  He took those words rather literally and thought that God wanted him to rebuild this fallen down chapel.  And he set out to do just that.

Soon afterwards he came to realize that God was calling him to rebuild his church by calling others together and living the spirit of the gospel more literally.  Francis gave up the fine clothes he had worn as a young man and took on the simple habit of a beggar, a brown robe and around his waist a white chord.

Before long a number of other young men were attracted to this way of life and joined Francis in a more simple lifestyle, even begging for their food and sharing even the little received with those who had less than they.

People in Assisi and the surrounding areas, at first, could not understand why Francis and his brothers were choosing a life of poverty rather than one of more comfort.  One of the most convincing signs of their new life was how happy and joyful they seemed to be in spite of having less materially.

Francis launched the Order of Friars Minor, or Franciscans as we call them today, and their lives as friars were marked by their strict observance in following the teachings of the gospel.  The Order of friars grew steadily not only in Italy but eventually in countries all over Europe and today all over the world.

In his later years Francis was marked by terrible suffering, including the wounds of the cross that marked his hands and feet.  He died on October 3, 1226.  By our reckoning that is still a young age but in the 13th century it was seen quite differently.  The popularity of devotion to St. Francis has extended far beyond the Catholic Church.  Especially in more modern times Francis has become the patron of ecology, animal care and all causes of peace.

Happy St. Francis Feast Day to all!

Fr. Walt