by E.D.V., a high school student in Northern Virginia
St. Francis, whose given name was Francesco Bernardone, was born in Assisi in about the year 1182. His family was well off because his father Pietro di Bernardone was a successful cloth merchant.
In his youth, Francis was idealistic and adventurous. He loved parties and having a good time. Francis could easily afford to wear the finest and most fashionable clothes, and he spent his money liberally and cherished his friends and good times. Although his was affluent he did suffer hardships.
His sense of loyalty led him to join the army at the age of twenty in a war against a neighboring city-state. During the course of a battle, Francis was captured and spent nearly a year incarcerated in an enemy prison before his ransom was paid by his father. When he returned, Francis became seriously ill, and his recovery was difficult and protracted. His dreams of glory and success began to fade, and Francis began to have serious doubts about his faith in God.
Francis had always felt uneasy around the sick and the poor and his temperament led him to especially fear lepers because of the unclean nature of the disease. During this time, leprosy was more common, and those infected with the disease were shunned and isolated from the community. As he was riding one day, Francis encountered a man infected with leprosy. Immediately, Francis felt uncomfortable, and his first reaction was to pass the man as quickly as possible. But suddenly, Francis felt an overwhelming sense of God's presence and realized that God was calling him to help the afflicted person. Overcoming his repulsion, Francis offered the leper his cloak. Then, moved by a divine impulse, he kissed the man.
When Francis recognized the presence of God in the person of the sick leper he was being prepared for the next step in the spiritual journey God planned for him. One day as Francis was praying for direction before the crucifix in the run-down chapel of San Damiano, he heard a voice speaking from the Crucifix. It said, "Francis, repair my church which has fallen into disrepair, as you can see." Francis, interpreted this literally and made plans to repair the structure. To fund his project, Francis sold some of his father's possessions which caused his father to take Francis to court to return what was taken. Francis apologized for taking the money and before the startled judge returned all that he had, even his clothes. Francis renounced his life of comfort and promised to bring those who imitated his way of life and the church back to the simplicity of the gospel with the spirit of simplicity and poverty.
Most of the townspeople laughed at Francis when he gave away his possessions and went about begging for food. But soon young men and women started to join him to imitate his way of life. Francis now understood that the message which God had given him through the crucifix meant that not only that God's physical church was in need of repair, but also the hearts and minds of the people, the needy, the wealthy, the physically sick and those physically strong.
Francis had a special respect for nature and all creation. He believed that creatures and objects reflected God's love and were therefore worthy of respect and awe. In 1224, Francis received the stigmata which were the wounds made in Christ's body in his side, and by the nails in his hands and feet when he was crucified.
Francis died in October 1226. Soon after, he was declared a saint in heaven and his feast day is celebrated on October 4th.
We must be open to God, to hear his suggestions as Francis heard them. As Francis heard the voice of God speaking to him through the Crucifix, we must hear the voice of God as he speaks to us through the stories of the Gospels.