The Many Faces and Phases of St. Francis of Assisi: From Soldier, to Beggar, to Troubadour, to Saint
There have been countless Catholic devotees of St. Francis of Assisi throughout the centuries who have maintained a deep love, affection, and admiration for the humble friar who had a tremendous influence on the Church. It is understandable since its teachings have always coincided with the promotion and special veneration of the angels and saints.
Yet there are also numerous others of various denominations with a genuine devotion to him. There are even those who aren’t members of any particular church or organized religion that have come to recognize, familiarize, and even endear themselves to him. However, many still do not know his full life story or what he had to go through to attain sainthood.
He is often envisioned as a mere inanimate ornamental object set within a flourishing flower bed, a decorative sedimentary patina garden statue of a bearded friar garbed in a monk’s robe. He brings a certain calm by posing peacefully with a gentle, contemplative gaze, holding a cross in one hand and a dove in the other, resting comfortably beneath his heart within his palm. He represents a figure of humanity who seems to be enveloped in harmony with nature, dwelling within creation as was intended by The Creator, which brings a certain reflection of paradise to the soul.
Therefore there are those who feel that when placed in the naturalistic atmosphere within the confines and privacy of their little piece of earth in their front or back yards, such statues are additional blessings to their property as they can further enhance their prayer life in relation and imitation of his meditative stance and presence. With relative ease, they can envision themselves as being part of the scenery, and observing it through his unclouded spiritual view, where time has no intrusive effect while transcending the here and now in grateful appreciation of God’s Gifts!
A Saint is Born
Francis was born in Assisi, Italy in the year 1181 and baptized Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone. He was nicknamed “Francisco” by his Italian father, Pietro Bernardone, a prosperous textile merchant, in reference to his wife Pica de Bourlemont’s French heritage. She was a pious woman and shared her love for the beauty of her faith with little Francis, who as a child also shared her sensitive soul. She most likely taught him that they must try to emulate the Holy Family through charity and prayer. Although happily married, she faced a difficult challenge in that her husband was a secular-minded, staunch businessman who wanted the boy to one day take over his enterprise when he was of age.
Being always surrounded by the material world (literally!), he was expected to follow in those silken-shoed footsteps and continue his father’s legacy of journeying in a fancy carriage or well-groomed steed. It was thought he was destined to journey down oft-traveled roads to various countries, purchasing beautiful fabrics and thereafter presenting them to wealthy clients who would fill his purse with gold coins and perhaps on one of those fruitful sojourns meeting and possibly marrying a delicate and refined golden haired noblewoman.
As many of the budding youth in his day, he dreamt of being a valiant soldier in shining armor, a knight who would go off to war to defend his domain and win the admiration of the whole town, and especially that of the fair maidens. He actually achieved a portion of that dream for a very brief period, parading gloriously around the square with flags and fanfare along with his friends and fellow soldiers before heading into battle.
But it was short-lived, and little did he know at the time that he would be called by an interior voice within his heart that couldn’t be silenced. No one would be able to understand his sudden indifference to the cause for which he had fought and his almost complete change of direction and vocation that would brand him with the disgraceful labels of “coward” and “deserter” for which he had to endure the misery of a medieval prison for a time.
As his faith and fate converged and intervened like the inseparable ivy vines that cling and climb upwardly, attaching themselves to a towering tree or a castle’s tall, fortified walls, he was inspired to veer off his former course and peruse a heavenly path. He would eventually tread down a very unusual and highly unlikely self-imposed rocky road of lonely deprivation, walking hand-in-hand with lady poverty, escorting her to the sacrificial supper and living in Divine Provenance.
He was further emboldened and entrenched to the depth of his soul on his divine mission and was instructed by what he truly believed to be the voice of God as he prayed at the foot of a crucifix in a little dilapidated chapel of San Damiano that said to him: “Francis, rebuild my house!” This request he took as a command and thought it to mean the physical structure of the place where he was standing. Yet it had a more profound meaning.
Francis was admonished severely by his father in middle of the public piazza for spending his money on the poor, and made quite a scene for the townspeople of the surrounding area who were astounded when they witnessed this silver-spooned-son of a proud pillar of the community publicly relinquish his birthright to an earthly fortune in favor of a spiritual inheritance, and handed over the very clothes on his back as an indisputable display of repudiating his earthly father’s way of life in favor of his Eternal Father’s plan.
Soon after that most memorable act of humiliation, he followed his previous act of paternal independence by proceeding to don sack cloth and become a lowly beggar, hauling a cart filled with stones through the streets, singing the psalms and praises of the Lord while asking for contributions of rocks to rebuild God’s House and collecting food for the needy, especially for the least loved of all, the dispelled and disfigured lepers.
When he was joined by twelve others who shared his enthusiasm in an attempt to walk the way of Jesus, they went on a pilgrimage to Rome to ask for the pope’s blessing and permission to legitimize their little ragged group so that they could preach the Gospel without the need of a monetary foundation as did the apostles. The Holy Father refused their request, but after they left, he had a dream in which he saw a simple friar resembling Francis holding up the pillars of the church as it was on the verge of collapsing.
The pope then sent for them again and authorized their order of The Friars Minor or better known as The Franciscans, and in time there would be thousands of disciples, assuring that the humble friar’s conversion and subsequent isolation into the outskirts of the town was part of a grander scaled plan that would touch not only one district, but rebuild the Universal Church!
On the Feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross, he would eventually be the first person to receive the indelible marks of the Stigmata, which are the visible wounds of Christ’s Passion as a sign that he shared an intimate relation with the Savior. Even though he was going through such extreme suffering, his songs and prose which reached beyond the barriers of religious differences and divides became known worldwide for their joyful charisms in praise and thanksgiving especially his “Canticle of the Creatures.” It was he who re-enacted the first Christmas with live animals, inspiring the worldwide family tradition known as the crèche or Nativity Scene.
He is a saint for everyone, of every faith, and walk of life, whose love for the Creator’s creatures was legend as he conversed with the beasts and the birds, comforting and consoling them while shinning forth his light with a countenance of kindness that put them at ease and in a state of peacefulness and bliss. His sanctity was a heroic example of prayerful humility proving that we all are capable of the miracle of conversion and a new beginning as long as we choose to use our free will to follow the will of God.
He went home to greet his maker at age 44, on October 3, 1226, after a sacrificial life well-lived. He is a patron saint of Italy, animals, the environment, and ecumenism. He was also known as “God’s Troubadour”, and the prayer most associated with him is “Lord, make me an Instrument of Your peace.”
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
By the Traveling Troubadour