St. Francis of Assisi ; Instrument of Peace

Rev. S Brandt

In Assisi overlooking the Umbria valley in central Italy was born in 1182, a most extraordinary and complex fellow who is recognised the world over as the saint of the poor and a lover of all beings created by God. A Franciscan biographer once wrote, “Human pens are really overpowered by the greatness of his wonderful life.”

Francesco di Bernardone was the eldest son of a prosperous textile merchant family. Not much is known of his childhood other than he could read and write Latin having been taught at St. Georges Church school.

Francis was deeply influenced by medieval chivalry and dreamed of achieving fame and glory as an armoured knight. At this time, petty war-fare raged between feuding villages and regions. The end of the century also saw the bloody third and fourth crusades. When he was twenty years old he was taken prisoner with a number of others and remained imprisoned for over a year. His imprisonment took a toll on Francis health as he came down with an unknown illness and was released into the care of his family.

For a long time Francis suffered with fevers. During this time he began to think about where his life was going and the role God played in his life. As soon as he recovered though, his thoughts went back to becoming a valiant warrior and once again he headed off to battle.

While out in the woods one day Francis came across a beggar, and despite the taunting from his friends Francis was moved to compassion and stripped and traded clothes with the man. This event caused his love for God to grow in spiritual fervor. As time went on Francis spent more and more time in prayer seeking God’s will for his life.

While walking by a stream Francis encountered a leper covered with lesions and he immediately felt repulsion and fascination. His turbulent emotions turned to deep empathy as he nursed the leper’s wounds. That day Francis was able to see the face of Jesus in the face of that leper, his heart of love transformed the poor and lowily into the image-bearers of God. About the only people Francis didn’t have time for were those who scorned and ridiculed the poor and oppressed.

Now Francis had a mission in life to help the poor. He waited til his father was out of town and gave away his father’s textiles to all who had need, and with his mother by his side, fed the hungry at his home.

One day when Francis was at St.Damians church in the valley, he gazed upon the cross and heard a voice that said, “Repair my church for it is falling apart.” Taking this message literally he took some of his father’s money and with a few friends they set about repairing St Damian’s church.

When his father returned from his business trip he exploded with rage and went straight away to the little church and grabbed Francis and locked him in the family home.

After awhile his father went on another business trip and Francis went back to helping the poor. This time when his father returned he immediately went to the bishop and had Francis charged with theft.

In the town square with the entire community watching, Francis disrobed and handed his father back all his clothes and possession’s and at that point, separated himself from the things of this world. The embarrassed bishop took off his ornate cloak and covered Francis nakedness,but inside, Francis knew he was finally free.

The infectious and exuberant faith of Francis soon sparked a movement of men and women that has now spread all around the world. Today there are more than 100,000 Franciscans in North America as well as a million others world wide.

Dressed in the garb of a beggar, Francis spent the next two year’s offering loving care to the leper’s in the valley, living in their community and continued repairing broken down churches in the area. At one of these churches on Feb. 24 1209, Francis had a vision of what God required of him and began preaching straight away in the ASSISI region. Francis always interpreted scripture very literally and when he read, “Provide no gold or silver to fill your purse… no pack for the road, no second coat, no shoes…” he gave everything away and took up begging [panhandling…stemming] to get his need’s met.

After awhile the ridicule of him by townsfolk turned into admiration for his compassionate work’s of mercy and some said his prayer’s healed them. Soon quite a number of young men gave away all earthly possession’s to follow the Francis way, which insisted on absolute poverty so as always to be a stranger and alien to this world’s materialistic way’s. In his preaching he spoke bluntly about sin and the need to repent and encouraged follower’s to keep short accounts with our forgiving God.

Francis quickly threw together some rule’s and founded a movement. Then he and his follower’s went off to Rome to see the Pope who was impressed with the zeal and passion of this strange group and gave them his papal blessing’s.

Francis may have been the first to create a “living nativity ‘ scene”. On Christmas 1223, in order to “set before our bodily eye’s… how Jesus lay in a manger,” Francis and his companion’s worshiped in a cave with oxen and sheep.

Often as his group of followers grew, there would be dissention regarding whether such austere poverty was really necessary. But Francis demanded obedience and fought all his life to be sure his order maintained its life of absolute poverty, chastity, nonviolence and separation from worldly influence. In the end though, the moderate’s won out and factions developed amoung his follower’s who wanted to own some personal possession’s. Francis said, “The Lord has called me to this way of simplicity and humbleness and He has pointed this out to me Himself, and for those that will believe and follow after me. The Lord has told me He would have me poor and foolish in this world.”

It was often reported that wild animals…rabbit’s, bird’s,even a wolf… became tame before Francis. Francis had a great love and respect for animal’s and all creation. It is said his greatest sermon was the one he preached to a flock of bird’s… “My Brothers, Bird’s, you should praise your Creator very much and always love Him look how God feeds you! How good God is to you because He gives you wings to get from place to place. He gives you the sky to fly around in and you praise Him by singing…” The moment he saw the birds he ran to greet them as if they understood.

Francis lived the beatitude’s and is known as a man of peace and a pacifist as he often put himself in the line of danger to help enemies reconcile. His greeting to people was “Pax et bonum” which means peace and blessing’s. Today a Francescan peace movement has swept the globe, encouraging people to lay down there arm’s and to use arm’s for hugging instead. One of Francis’ goal’s was to wage peace in every human encounter. He saw himself as a prophetic witness in this world.

Because of his ministry to leper’s and his severe lifestyle Francis died prematurely. At the end he was blind, diseased[probably with tuberculoid leprosy] and emaciated. Francis died on the 4th October 1226 in his 44th year. In death as in life, he took the way of poverty as he lay himself naked on the cold ground waiting for his final gasp.

It was on July 16 1228 that Pope Gregory canonized him a saint in the Roman Catholic Church in a drawn out ceremony that St Bonaventure described as “A long ceremony too tedious to describe.”

Writings By St.Francis

Where there is love and wisdom
there is neither fear nor ignorance
where there is patience and humility
there is neither anger nor annoyance
where there is poverty and joy
there is neither cupidity noe avariance
where there is peace and contemplation
there is neither care nor restlessness
where there is mercy and prudence
there is neither excess nor harshness

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Lord make me an instrument of your peace
where there is hatred let me sow love
where there is injury, pardon
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
and where there is saddness, joy

O Master grant that I should never seek
so much to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
to be loved as to love
for it is in giving that we recieve
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life

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Quotes

O how beautiful, how spendid, how glorious did he appear in the innocence of his life, in the simplicity of his word’s, in the purity of his heart, in his love for God, in his fraternal charity, in his ardent odedience, in his peaceful submission’s, in his angelic countenance….Thomas of Celano

His teaching’s are true and his holiness should arouse our admiration…St Bonaventure

St Francis walked the world like the pardon of God…G.K.Chesterton

The love of money is a root of all evil…St Paul

Live simply so that others may simply live…Ghandi

One goes more quickly to heaven from a hut than from a palace…St Francis

Tis a gift to be simple
tis a gift to be free
tis a gift to come down
where we ought to be…Shaker hymn

I dont envy those who have never known any pain because I suspect that only those who have suffered great pain are able to know equally great joy…Madeleine L’Engle

No one can approach God without withdrawing from this world…
St Isaak of Syria

The gate of Heaven is very low, only the humble can enter it…
St Elizabeth Seton

By compassion we make other’s misery our own…Sir Thomas Browne

If we dont accept Jesus in one another we will not be able to give Him to other’s…Mother Theresa

Love does not give money, it give’s itself. If it give’s itself first and a lot of money too, that is all the better, but first it must sacrifice itself…Thomas Merton

I look upon the world as my parish…John Wesley

Preach always if necessary use words…St Francis

If everyone would take only according to his needs and would leave the surplus to the needy, no one would be rich, no one would be poor and no one would be in misery…St Basil

Christ has no body now but your’s
No hand’s, no feet on earth but your’s
Your’s are the eye’s through which He looks
Compassion on this world
Your’s are the feet with which He walk’s to do good
Your’s are the hand’s with which He bless’s all the world…
St Theresa

We have been called to heal wound’s, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way…
St Francis

All you need is love…the Beatles
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References

1] The little flowers of St.francis… by Raphael Brown

2] The life of St.Francis of Assisi… by E.E.Reynolds

3] Daily Readings with St.Francis… by Sr.Klepec OSF

4] Peace of Heart… by John Kirvan

5] The lessons of St.Francis… by J.M Talbot

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