I decided to start my year of journeying with the Saints with Saint Francis of Assisi. When I started studying Catholicism in 2018, references to St. Francis came up often. As a dog mom and an animal lover, I was intrigued by his connection to animals. I had heard stories of him communicating with animals and being connected to God through nature. Many Catholic parishes hold an annual pet blessing in October in honor of St. Francis’s feast day. I was so thankful to bring my sweet dog, Wylie, to receive a pet blessing in October 2019, just before he died. Utilizing resources like Formed (basically Catholic Netflix!) and a book that came highly recommended, The Journey and the Dream, I spent January getting to know Saint Francis better, and I’m excited to share him with all of you.
St. Francis was from the small town of Assisi, Italy. He was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. As Francis became a young man, he enjoyed parties with his friends and dreamt of military excellence, imagining himself a glorified soldier. Then one day, Francis had an encounter with a poor beggar that profoundly changed him. When the beggar approached him, Francis sent the beggar away and later felt great remorse for doing so. Francis repented of his ways and began to lose interest in his lifestyle of privilege and parties. He soon fell in love with “Lady Poverty,” a term he used to refer to rejecting worldly goods himself and helping the poor. Francis would come to think of Lady Poverty as his wife, “marrying” her to offer himself in service to the Lord and the poor. Francis renounced his wealth, returned his rich clothing to his father, and began wearing a simple cloak instead. Francis desired to truly embody Christ, to the point that he even physically embraced lepers.
One day while praying in a church in San Damiano, Francis heard the voice of Jesus speak to him from a crucifix. The voice instructed Francis to, “rebuild my Church.” Francis took the instruction literally and began collecting stones to physically rebuild the rundown church building. Later, Francis would realize he was to rebuild spiritually, revitalizing the Church and bringing people back to the Lord. Francis eventually founded the Franciscan Order, which was given papal recognition in 1210.
Francis gained many admirers and followers, including one young lady named Clare. Attracted by Francis’s example, she chose to live a humble, modest life in service to the Church and the poor. Clare founded the Poor Clares or the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, the female Franciscan order. Today they are known as the Order of St. Clare. St. Clare of Assisi died in 1253 at age 59. She was canonized (made a Saint) in 1255, and today her remains are in St. Clare Basilica in Assisi.
Many healings were attributed to Francis, including sight for the blind and healing of demon possessed people. Most interesting to me was his ability to communicate with animals. Francis felt close to God in nature and would refer to “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon.” One of the most well-known instances of Francis’s closeness with the animals is his preaching to the birds. It is said he preached at a flock of birds, blessed them, and immediately after blessing and dismissing them, they flew away.
Francis was also one of several Saints who were gifted with the stigmata, bearing the wounds of Jesus physically on his body. On September 14, 1224, Francis had a vision of an angel while praying. He then received the stigmata and bore the wounds of Christ in his own body.
Francis died young due to illness, at only 44 years old, on October 4, 1226 in Assisi. He was canonized in 1228, just two years after his death, by Pope Gregory IX. St. Francis’s few short years on earth were an incredibly powerful witness to others and his life continues to be an example to many.
Today we remember the life and example of St. Francis on his feast day, October 4th. As I previously mentioned, many parishes have a pet blessing in honor of St. Francis’s close relationship with animals. St. Francis is the patron Saint of Italy, animals, archaeologists, ecology, merchants, messengers, and metal workers.
Following is a prayer to St. Francis and additional resources to learn more about his life and the Franciscans.
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
Peace Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
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 receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Francis: The Journey and the Dream by Murray Bodo
Learn about those following the example of St. Francis today like the Franciscan Friars of Renewal: