Who Started this Order? // Francis and the Franciscans

For all the saints who from their labors rest,who Thee by faith before the world confessed; Thy name,Jesus,be forever blest.Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day; the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the King of glory passes on his way. Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, and singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: Alleluia, Alleluia!

Service Well-Pleasing to God, let mutual love continue. Hebrews 13:1

I find it incredible that a short, ragged, barefoot man who lived 800 years ago still influences people to this day. Yet St. Francis of Assisi has continued to touch the lives of many around the globe, through his own witness and that of his followers.

I am one of those people, whose heart was captivated by the stories of this man while I was in college, surrounded by men and women wearing habits that resembled his own, and by walking his footsteps in Assisi. I was surprised to learn that he wasn’t just the birdbath saint that I had grown up hearing about, but that his story is so much deeper.

St. Francis lived in the 1200s in Assisi, a medieval town in the center of Italy. His father was a wealthy merchant, and Francis grew up living a moderately extravagant lifestyle, filled with parties with his friends. His dream was to become a knight, and he went to battle only to become wounded and sick. This led him to reexamine his life and start dreaming of a different kind of knighthood, one where he would court Lady Poverty and fight battles for souls.

Upon his knees in prayer in an abandoned chapel in the woods, a crucifix came to life and asked Francis to “rebuild my church which is falling into ruin.” As any man would, he literally started to rebuild the stones of the little chapel. He finally realized, however, that he was metaphorically meant to rebuild the Church, and started recruiting followers to his little band of beggars who radically lived out the Gospel.

The Franciscans were officially founded in 1209. Aside from joyfully living in extreme poverty for the sake of Christ, the friars would also go out and preach about repentance and conversion. St. Francis was known for preaching not just to people, including a Sultan, but to the birds and other creatures as well (hence the birdbaths). Yet this was not a frivolous love of nature of his, but instead a deep understanding of the Incarnation.

St. Francis saw God in everything. The Christ who became poor so that we may become rich descended into our humanity and the world we live in. Because he had this deep peace within himself and with God, he was also at peace with the created world around him and with God’s creatures. This is what it must have been like in the Garden before the Fall. Near the end of his life, St. Francis was actually the first recorded saint to have received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ in his hands and side. He imitated Christ so perfectly in his poverty and humility, that Christ wanted St. Francis to imitate Him in the flesh as well.

The Franciscans are now all over the world, wearing all different shades of brown, grey, and black robes. Yet they all call us back to the poverello’s witness of joy, peace, poverty, humility, and profound love of Christ.

Reflection: As we approach the Advent season, reflect on this quote from St. Francis (who also the first to create a manger scene):

“He, being rich above all, willed, nevertheless, with His most Blessed Mother, to choose poverty ... Every day He humbles Himself just as He did when from from His heavenly throne into the Virgin's womb; every day He comes to us and lets us see Him in lowliness, when He descends from the bosom of the Father into the hands of the priest at the altar... O humble sublimity! O sublime humility! that the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under a morsel of bread. Consider, brothers, the humility of God and ‘pour out your hearts before Him.’”

(Sources: Letter to all the Faithful, 1st Admonition, & Letter to All the Friars)

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