Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Francis of Assisi

1181-1205 Conventional Life
Francis was born around 1181 in the city of Assisi in what is now Italy. He was named Giovanni but his father always called him Francis (“Frenchie”). His father was a rich seller of cloth, so Francis grew up having everything he wanted.

As a teenager, Francis loved the songs of troubadours. These were singers who traveled from one place to another and sang about love. He also liked wearing fancy clothes and eating, drinking, and having fun with his friends.

One day, when Francis was about 19 years old, he was busy selling cloth for his father. A beggar came up to him and asked him for money. At first, Francis ignored him. Later he ran after the beggar and gave him all the money he had in his pockets. His friends teased him about this. His father yelled at him.

In 1201, Francis joined other young men of Assisi as a soldier. They went off to fight the young men of the nearby city of Perugia. During the fighting, Francis was captured. He lived in Perugia for over a year as a prisoner. Then he returned to Assisi and to his old way of living.

1205-1209 Years of Transition
In 1205, Francis thought he would try again to be a good soldier. He left Assisi to join the local army of another city. On his way there, however, Jesus told him in a dream to return to Assisi. He did.

This time he did not return to his old way of living. He stopped partying with his friends. Instead, he began thinking and praying in quiet places. He even started caring for lepers. In those days lepers were people who were not only sick but also feared and hated.

He decided to visit Rome. When he got there, he exchanged his very nice clothes for the rags of a beggar. He then joined other beggars asking for money outside of a church.

Back in Assisi, he began to spend lots of time praying in a very rundown chapel. One day while he was praying there, Jesus spoke to him once again. Jesus called Francis by name and asked him to repair the Church. At first, Francis thought Jesus wanted him to fix the little chapel. So Francis sold his horse and some of his father’s cloth to pay for fixing it. Only later did Francis understand that Jesus wanted him to fix the spirit of the Church.

His father did not like what Francis was doing. He tried to change his mind. First his father yelled at him. Then he beat him. Finally he took him to court. Francis told his father he didn’t want his money. He didn’t even want the clothes he was wearing. So Francis took them off right then, gave them to his father, and walked out of the courtroom naked.

For two years he lived as a beggar around Assisi. He worked on fixing small churches in the area.

In 1209, Francis heard a priest talk about a story from the Bible (Matthew 10:9). In that story, Jesus sends his friends to talk with others about the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus tells his friends to take nothing with them as they share this good news with others. Francis decided that he would also live this way.

Francis was very happy as he walked around singing and telling people about the Kingdom of Heaven. His simple yet joyful way of living attracted others who joined him.

1210-1220 Happy Years of a New Way of Living
In 1210, Francis and his friends went to Rome to ask the pope, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, to make their group official. At first the pope didn’t want to. Francis and his friends were too different. But then the pope had a dream in which he saw Francis holding up the Church. He changed his mind and made Francis and his group official.

Francis and his friends returned to Assisi. They talked, sang, and spread joy first in Assisi then throughout Italy and beyond.

Francis taught that all creatures are our brothers and sisters. He liked talking about Brother Sun and Sister Moon. He told birds about the Kingdom of Heaven. He even persuaded a wolf to act peacefully after the people of a town agreed to feed him.

Between 1099 and 1291, Christian soldiers fought Muslim soldiers over control of the Levant and Egypt. In 1219, Francis traveled to Egypt. He wanted to convert the sultan to Christianity or die trying. The sultan agreed to see Francis, listened to him very carefully, but sent him away without converting. Even so, after the collapse of Crusader kingdoms in the Levant, Muslims allowed only the friends of Francis to stay and take care of the places special to Christians.

1220-1226: Even the New Way Becomes Conventional
Francis returned to Assisi in 1220. By then thousands of people had joined the group, the Franciscans, which Francis had started only ten years before. Already the spirit of the group had changed. Francis decided he did not want to be the leader of it anymore. Others took control.

Francis continued to travel, sing, and share the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven with others.

In 1224, something special happened to him. One night while praying, he had a vision of an angel. From this angel he received wounds in his hands, side, and feet. They were like the wounds which Jesus had received on the cross.

In 1226, Francis died and was buried in Assisi.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.