Saint Francis of Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, informally named as Francesco, was an Italian Catholic friar, deacon, and preacher.
He founded the men’s Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of Saint Clare, the Third Order of Saint Francis, and the Custody of the Holy Land.
St. Francis died at Portiuncula, Italy on October 4, 1226.
Pope Gregory IX pronounced St. Francis a saint on July 16, 1228. The pope also laid the foundation stone for the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, Italy. The church, also known as Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Along with Saint Catherine of Siena, Francis was designated Patron saint of Italy.
Francis fell in love with the humanity and the humility of Jesus; while most of Western and even Eastern Christianity focused on proving the divinity of Jesus.
It’s not easy to put into a capsule the spirit and gifts of Franciscan thinking. Its hallmarks are simplicity, reverence, fraternity, ecumenism, ecology, interdependence, and dialogue. Its motto and salutation is “Peace and All Good!”
Francis believed that God was nonviolent, the God of Peace. This belief may be a simple presupposition for us today, but at the time when the Christian church was waging a Holy Crusade against its enemies, the Saracens, Francis’s interpretation of the gospel life and its demands was revolutionary. Francis saw it from the viewpoint of the poor, especially from the place of the poor, naked, suffering Christ. He had deep devotion to the God who is revealed as nonviolent and poor in the stable of Bethlehem, as abandoned on the cross, and as food in the Eucharist. God’s meekness, humility, and poverty led Francis to become “perfected as his Heavenly Father was perfect.” Francis identified with the “minores,” the lower class within his society…And he passionately pointed to the Incarnation as the living proof of God’s love. He frequently cried out in his pain that “Love is not loved!”
Incarnation is absolutely foundational to the Franciscan worldview. It is said that Francis created the first live Nativity scene. Franciscans emphasize Incarnation perhaps even more than redemption. In other words, Christmas is more important than Easter. Francis said that for God to be born a human being, born in a stable among the poor, shows that we already have redemption. Christmas is already Easter because if God became a human being, then it’s good to be a human being! The problem is already solved. That Jesus was born into a poor family shows God’s love for the poor.
Source: Adapted from John Quigley, “Brothers,” Richard Rohr: Illuminations of His Life and Work, eds. Andreas Ebert and Patricia C. Brockman (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1993), 5-6.
At Greccio near Assisi, around 1220, Francis celebrated Christmas by setting up the first known presepio or crèche. His nativity imagery reflected the scene in traditional paintings. He used real animals to create a living scene so that the worshipers could contemplate the birth of the child Jesus in a direct way, making use of the senses, especially sight. Both Thomas of Celano and Saint Bonaventure, biographers of Saint Francis, tell how he used only a straw-filled manger set between a real ox and donkey. According to Thomas, it was beautiful in its simplicity, with the manger acting as the altar for the Christmas Mass.
On November 29, 1979, Pope John Paul II declared Saint Francis the Patron Saint of Ecology. During the World Environment Day 1982, John Paul II said that Saint Francis’ love and care for creation was a challenge and a reminder “not to behave like dissident predators where nature is concerned, but to assume responsibility for it, taking all care so that everything stays healthy and integrated, so as to offer a welcoming and friendly environment even to those who succeed us.” He wrote on the World Day of Peace, January 1, 1990, that the saint of Assisi “offers Christians an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation…As a friend of the poor who was loved by God’s creatures, Saint Francis invited all of creation – animals, plants, natural forces, even Brother Sun and Sister Moon – to give honor and praise to the Lord. The poor man of Assisi gives us striking witness that when we are at peace with God we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is inseparable from peace among all peoples.”
On 13 March 2013, upon his election as Pope, Archbishop and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, becoming Pope Francis.
At his first audience on March 16, 2013, Pope Francis told journalists that he had chosen the name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, and had done so because he was especially concerned for the well-being of the poor. He explained that, as it was becoming clear during the conclave voting that he would be elected the new bishop of Rome, the Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes had embraced him and whispered, “Don’t forget the poor,” which had made Bergoglio think of the saint. Bergoglio had previously expressed his admiration for St. Francis, explaining that “He brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He changed history.” Bergoglio’s selection of his papal name is the first time that a pope has been named Francis.
Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith.
All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.
Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.
Lord, make me an Instrument of Thy Peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon…
If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.
If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.
While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.
Sermon to the Birds:
My little sisters the birds, ye owe much to God, your Creator, and ye ought to sing his praise at all times and in all places, because he has given you liberty to fly about into all places; and though ye neither spin nor sew, he has given you a twofold and a threefold clothing for yourselves and for your offspring. Two of all your species he sent into the Ark with Noah that you might not be lost to the world; besides which, he feeds you, though ye neither sow nor reap. He has given you fountains and rivers to quench your thirst, mountains and valleys in which to take refuge, and trees in which to build your nests; so that your Creator loves you much, having thus favoured you with such bounties. Beware, my little sisters, of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praise to God.
Symbols associated with St. Francis of Assisi:
- A bag of gold and rich raiment at St. Francis’ feet.
- A winged crucifix with five rays.
- A crown of thorns.
- A lighted lamp.
- A fiery chariot.
- Animals such as birds, deer, and a wolf.
Things to Do:
- Pray the Canticle of the Sun, which was written by St. Francis.
- Many churches and parishes have a Blessing of animals or pets on or around this day.
- St. Francis was influential on our present-day Christmas crib or creche. Make or buy a special nativity set to play with or display.
- Although St. Francis is one of the most popular saints of the Church, and his feast is a huge celebration in Assisi, there are no particular foods attached to his festival. Tradition has passed on that on his deathbed he requested Frangipane cream or Mostaccioli (almond biscotti). Fire is a symbol of St. Francis, first of all because his heart was on fire with love of God, but there are other stories that deal with fire, particularly when he prayed, the surrounding areas would become so bright that people thought the areas were on fire. So a flaming dessert or wine would be an appropriate ending of a wonderful feast. One could also try some Umbrian style recipes, or just have “Italian night” at home, even simple pasta and sauces.
- What does poverty in our state of life mean? How can I follow the Gospels like Francis?
- Study art and photos of Francis. Find out more about the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Although an earthquake in 1997 damaged the basilica, it reopened in 1999.
- Read about St. Clare and her relationship with St. Francis.
- Read about the Tau Cross.
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- A Love Letter to St. Francis of Assisi from St. Clare
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