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St. Francis of Assisi

Growing up, you always knew that if your parents, grandparents or those in positions of authority (as, let us say, Dominican Sisters who were your teachers) used your entire name – it was either a very important message you would hear.  Or more likely you were in big trouble!

My baptized name is James Francis and yes, when I was in some sort of trouble that entire name was used.  And again, with the Dominican Sisters, I was reminded that I was named after two particularly important Saints!  Saint James and Saint Francis.  Most of the gravitation would be towards St. Francis since he was very well known for his work with the poor and kindness to animals. 

Sunday, 4 October 2020, is St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day!

Saint Francis was a Catholic friar who gave up a life of wealth to live a life of poverty. He is well known with establishing the Franciscan Order of friars and the Women’s Order of the Poor Ladies.

Francis was born in Assisi, Italy, in 1182. His life was privileged, being the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. His father’s dream was for Francis to become a businessman. 

At nineteen, Francis went off to battle against a nearby town – Perugia. He was captured, taken prisoner, held in a dungeon for a year, until his father paid his ransom.

Francis started seeing visions from God over the next few years that changed his life. He thought God was calling him to fight in the Crusades.  Later, another vision told him to help the poor and sick. While praying in the rural rundown chapel of San Damiano, Francis heard God tell him to “repair my church, which is falling in ruins.”  At this, Francis gave all his money to the church, left his father’s home, and took a vow of poverty.

Living a life of poverty, Francis preached about the life of Jesus Christ.  His one basic rule to his followers was to “follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and walk in his footsteps.” In 1210, Francis and his followers traveled to Rome and received approval for their religious Order from Pope Innocent III.  Pope Innocent III’s first impression of Francis and his followers was not the best – since they were dirty and smelled.  But he heard them out and saw the genuine goodness in their mission.

Recognized for his love of nature and animals, Francis was known for preaching to animals. One time, birds began to sing while he talked with them then flew into the sky and formed the sign of a cross.  Known also for taming wild animals, one story is of a vicious wolf killing people and livestock.  With town’s people frightened, Francis confronted the wolf who was preparing to attack.  Francis suddenly makes the sign of the cross and told the wolf not to hurt or kill anymore.  The wolf suddenly became tame and later was cared for by the townspeople until his death.

As a great love for all God’s creation, Francis became the patron saint of animals and it is fitting that we have a special Blessing in St. Francis’ honor for our pets at Our Lady of the Lake on his feast day.

Finally, Francis was a not a priest, as some believe, but was a deacon.  He received the wounds of Christ, the Stigmata, in 1224, and died 3 October 1226 singing “voce mea ad Dominum” – I cry out to the Lord.  On 16 July 1228, Francis was canonized by Pope Gregory IX.

As a young boy I was confronted for my misbehavior and called by my full name by the Dominican Sisters, who would then tell me of the works of St. Francis, his kindness for the poor and to animals.  This has always been, actually, a fond memory.  Let us all cry out with joy to the Lord as we celebrate the feast of St. Francis!    Blessings – Dcn Jim