Damian long ago, but now about to collapse with age. When the new soldier of Christ arrived at the church, he was stirred with pity for its condition and entered with fear and reverence. Finding a poor priest inside, Francis kissed his sacred hands and offered him the money he was carrying, telling the priest what he intended to do. The priest was stunned. Astonished by such an incredibly sudden conversion, he refused to believe what he heard. Since he thought he was being deceived, he refused to keep the money that had been offered him. He had seen Francis just the other day, so to speak, living riotously among his relations and acquaintances, acting even more stupidly than the rest.
Francis, stubbornly insistent, tried to prove he was sincere. He begged the priest to let him stay there for the sake of the lord. Finally the priest agreed that he could stay but, fearing Francis' parents, he would not accept the money. Francis, genuinely contemptuous of money, threw it on a windowsill, treating it as if it were dust. He wanted to possess wisdom, which is better than gold, and prudence, which is more precious than silver.
He locked his son up at home, but Francis' mother let him out while Pietro was away on a business trip. Finally, despairing of private solutions, early in Pietro brought his son before the bishop of Assisi.
The First Life of St. Francis
Francis again proved equal to the occasion. When he had been led before the bishop, Francis neither delayed nor explained himself, but simply stripped off his clothes and threw them aside, giving them back to his father. He did not even keep his trousers, but stood there in front of everyone completely naked.
The bishop, sensing his intention and admiring his constancy, rose and wrapped his arms around Francis, covering him with his own robe. He saw clearly that Francis was divinely inspired and that his action contained a mystery. Thus he became Francis' helper, cherishing and comforting him. The chronology is vague, but a general life-style is suggested. Francis' sense of his own vocation was still in the process of formation, however. Meanwhile this holy man, having changed his attire and repaired the aforesaid church, went to another place near Assisi and began to rebuild a certain dilapidated and nearly ruined church, ceasing only when the task was finished.
Then he went to still another place called the Portiuncula, the site of a church dedicated to the blessed virgin, the mother of God. This church, built long ago, was now deserted and cared for by no one. When the holy man of God saw how destroyed the church was, he was moved with pity and began to spend a great deal of time there, for he burned with devotion toward the mother of all good. It was in the third year of his conversion that he began to repair this church.
At that time he wore a sort of hermit's attire, a leather belt around his waist and a staff in his hands, and he went about wearing shoes. One day, however, when the gospel story of Christ sending his disciples to preach was read in the church, the holy man of God was present and more or less understood the words of the gospel. After mass he humbly asked the priest to explain the gospel to him. He heard that Christ's disciples were supposed to possess neither gold, nor silver, nor money; were to have neither bread nor staff; were to have neither shoes nor two tunics; but were to preach the kingdom of God and penance.
When the priest had finished, Francis, rejoicing in the spirit of God, said, "This is what I want! This is what I'm looking for! This is what I want to do from the bottom of my heart!
He took off his shoes, tossed away his staff, was satisfied with a single tunic, and exchanged his leather belt for a cord. He made himself a tunic that looked like the cross so that he could beat off the temptations of the devil. It was rough in order to crucify the vices and sins of the flesh. It was poor and mean so that the world would not covet it. With the greatest diligence and reverence he tried to do everything else that he had heard, for he was not a deaf hearer of the gospel but, laudably committing all that he had heard to memory, he diligently attempted to fulfill them to the letter.
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In , when it numbered twelve including Francis, the Franciscan order was born. Seeing that the Lord God daily increased their number, Francis wrote simply and in a few words a form of life and rule for himself and his brothers both present and to come. It mainly used the words of the gospel, for the perfection of which alone he yearned.
Nevertheless, he did insert a few other things necessary for the pursuit of a holy life. At that time the venerable bishop of Assisi, Guido, who honored Francis and the brothers and prized them with a special love, also happened to be in Rome. When he saw Francis and his brothers there and did not know the cause, he was very upset, since he feared they were planning to desert their native city, in which God was now doing great things through his servants.
Biography of Saint Francis
He was pleased to have such men in his diocese and relied greatly on their life and manners. Having heard the cause of their visit and understood their plan, he was relieved and promised to give them advice and aid. Saint Francis also went to the bishop of Sabina, John of Saint Paul, one of the great members of the Roman court who seemed to despise earthly things and love heavenly ones.
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Receiving Francis with kindness and love, the bishop praised him highly for his request and intention. Since he was a prudent and discreet man, the bishop began to question Francis about many things and tried to convince him that he should try the life of a monk or hermit. Saint Francis humbly refused his advice as well as he could, not because he despised what the bishop suggested but because, impelled by a higher desire, he devoutly wished for something else.
The lord bishop marveled at his fervor and, fearing that he might eventually slip back from such high intentions, tried to show him a path that would be easier to follow. Finally, won over by Francis' constancy, the bishop agreed to his petition and attempted to further his plan before the pope. At that time the church was led by Innocent III, who was famous, very learned, gifted in speech, and burning with zeal for whatever would further the cause of the Christian faith. When he had discovered what these men of God wanted and thought the matter over, he assented to their request and did what had to be done.
Exhorting and admonishing them about many things, he blessed Saint Francis and his brothers, saying to them, "Go with the Lord, brothers, and preach penance to all as the Lord will inspire you. Then, when the Lord increases you in number and in grace, return joyously to me. At that time I will concede more to you and commit greater things to you more confidently. In Francis' case, such mortification was related not only to the cultivation of spiritual experience, or what was known as the contemplative life, but also to the Franciscan emphasis on humility and the equally Franciscan desire to imitate Christ.
The virtue of patience so enfolded them that they sought to be where they could suffer bodily persecution rather than where, their sanctity being known and praised, they might be exalted by the world. Many times when they were insulted, ridiculed, stripped naked, beaten, bound or imprisoned, they trusted in no one's patronage but rather bore all so manfully that only praise and thanksgiving echoed in their mouths.
Scarcely or never did they cease their prayers and praise of God. Instead, continually discussing what they had done, they thanked God for what they had done well and shed tears over what they had neglected to do or done carelessly. They thought themselves abandoned by God if in their worship they did not find themselves constantly visited by their accustomed fervor.
When they wanted to throw themselves into prayer, they developed certain techniques to keep from being snatched off by sleep. Some held themselves up by suspended ropes in order to make sure their worship would not be disturbed by sleep creeping up on them. Others encased their bodies in iron instruments.
Still others encased themselves in wooden girdles. If, as usually occurs, their sobriety was disturbed by abundance of food or drink, or if they exceeded the limits of necessity by even a little because they were tired from a journey, they harshly tormented themselves by abstinence for many days. They tried to repress the promptings of the flesh by such great mortification that they did not hesitate to strip naked in the coldest ice or inundate their bodies with a flow of blood by piercing themselves all over with thorns. He attempted a voyage to Morocco, but became ill in Spain and had to turn back.
In he went to Syria where a crusade was in progress, and enjoyed the following experience, according to Celano. In the thirteenth year of his conversion, Francis proceeded to Syria, for great and deadly battles between Christians and pagans were going on there every day. Francis, who was traveling with a companion, was not afraid to present himself before the sultan of the Saracens.
But who can say with what constancy of mind he stood before him, with what strength of spirit he spoke, with what eloquence and assurance he answered those who insulted the Christian law? Before he was brought before the sultan he was captured by soldiers, insulted, and beaten with a lash; yet he was not afraid, was not terrified by the threats of torture, and did not grow pale when threatened with death.
And though he was reproached by many who were opposed in mind and hostile in spirit, he was very honorably received by the sultan.
The Life Of St. Francis Of Assisi by St. Bonaventure
Trying to bend Francis' spirit toward the wealth of this world, he honored him as much as he could and gave him many presents; yet when he saw that Francis despised such things as if they were dung, he was filled with the greatest admiration and regarded Francis as different from all others.
He was moved by Francis' words and listened to him willingly. But, being a farseeing and judicious man, he began to question St. Francis on many points, and urged him to embrace the life of a monk or of a hermit. Francis, however, as humbly as he could, refused to yield to the Cardinal's persuasion, not that he despised what had been urged upon him, but in his pious, longing for another course of life, he was carried on by a still loftier desire.
The Cardinal wondered at his fervor, and fearing lest he might flinch from so stern a purpose, pointed him out easier ways.