St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi was born in Italy in 1182. He grew up in a middle-class home that engaged in the sale of fine cloth. He was a skilled merchant but enjoyed spending money more than earning it. He was a man about town, a leader among his friends, and well-liked for his concern for others.
St. Francis joined a civic-minded Assisi militia in a battle against a neighboring city. He was captured and held for ransom for a year before the ransom was paid. He returned to Assisi a more reflective man. Subsequent military service for the Papal States ended abruptly when Francis heard a voice tell him, “Follow the master rather than the man.” He sold his expensive armor and horse, returned home, and began to spend hours in prayer.
Shortly after this turning point, St. Francis met a leper on the outskirts of Assisi. He dismounted his horse, gave the man some money, and kissed his putrid hand. This was the beginning of his visits to leper houses and hospitals.
St. Francis heard a voice from the cross say to him, “Francis, go and repair my church, which as you can see is in ruins,” he sold a large amount of cloth and his father’s horse at a neighboring market town. Coming back to Assisi, he donated the proceeds to a priest at the church of San Damiano. St. Francis’ father became angry because St. Francis sold cloth from the family store, and a horse, and donated money that was not his. He was charged with stealing and imprisoned. When St. Francis and his father were in a church square his father demanded the return of the money. The Bishop and his court were there and told St. Francis that the Church could not accept stolen money. St. Francis returned the coins to his father who then disinherited him.
St. Francis eventually began to wear a smock which he tied around his waist with a cord. He lived alone in absolute poverty, prayed, helped the sick, rebuilt nearby run-down chapels. He preached and begged throughout his town, probably as an embarrassment to his family. Men begin to follow his lead, and the first fire of the worldwide Franciscan order ignited. St. Francis was consequently ordained a deacon.
St. Francis died at the age of 44 and was canonized in 1224. A measure of his massive impact can be gauged by observing that it is not uncommon for Saint Francis to be seen as the ideal of Christian virtue and poverty, even over and above the religion’s very founder.