Chapel/home of Francis and his first friars
Francis, the monk
In direct contrast to his early life, Francis donned the simple robe of a monk and pursued a life of poverty and service. While bishops and cardinals lived in palaces, Francis, and those who soon began to follow him, lived in huts and lean-tos, and stayed in shelters for lepers. As a result he became known as the Poverello. He believed that owning “things” imposes a kind of slavery whereby we are forced to maintain and accumulate more things, a pattern that squeezes God out of our lives. Francis said that “one ascends to Heaven quicker from a hovel than from a palace.”
It is doubtful that anyone has ever sought a personal relationship with Christ as intensely as did Francis. There is a remarkable consistency in the descriptions of how he encountered his Lord. He didn’t just utter streams of carefully formed sentences. He prayed with a quiet intensity that dug into the depths of his soul. Nothing was withheld; every aspect of his being—body, mind, and soul—leaped out in search of that divine spark.
A tapestry of an incredible age
Knights in shining armor, beautiful princesses in castle towers, the clash of swords in the bloody sands of the Holy Land, Gregorian chants echoing through towering monastic corridors and the opulent ceremonies of kings and popes. Francis’s world is the setting for both our brightest fantasies and our darkest nightmares.
At first alone, Francis began talking about God in a way rarely heard before. Humility was not a typical attribute of church leaders at that time, but it was a cornerstone of the “Poverello’s” life and teaching. The brothers were known as the “Friars Minor.” They were to be poor in spirit and “subject to all.” Francis persistently avoided or ignored the praises of his colleagues and followers.
The Knight of God
Francis never completely abandoned knighthood. But no longer clad in the garb of a knight with armor and sword, he now assumed the ragged robe of a monk, wielding the sword of his faith and the gospels. Utterly fearless, he went so far as to face alone the Saracen warlord on the sands of Egypt in a single-handed attempt to end the bloody Crusades.
ASSISI IN ITALY , THE HOME OF SAINT FRANCIS
Saint Francis of Assisi
The Warrior Knight
From childhood Francis had desperately longed to become a Knight. He learned to fight and finally got his chance when war broke out between Assisi and its larger neighboring city, Perugia. Son of one of the richest men in Assisi, he was splendidly clad in armor when he went off to war. But the experience was far removed from his youthful dreams of glory.
Journey to Sainthood
Exactly what happened to change Francis so dramatically is a mystery. Certainly he had reason to be discouraged. The battle left him a prisoner of war, held for ransom in a ghastly dungeon for a year, eventually returning home deathly ill. But what eventually resulted was a completely changed man, no longer profligate—no longer self-absorbed.
The Legacy of a Saint
In spite of his unorthodox teachings, Francis of Assisi brought new life to a spiritually barren world in what many have called the “greatest spiritual revival in history.” Villagers gathered to hear him in town squares and piazzas. Knowing the harsh rigors of his lifestyle, people nevertheless flocked into his Friars Minor, some giving up great wealth, power and fame, to gain something they believed to be of infinitely greater value.