Monday, October 04, 2010

Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI: chivalrous knight, disciple of the troubadours, courtly lover of Lady Poverty, friend to beggars, rebuilder of the ruined chapel of San Damiano, companion to the lepers, exhorter to sinners for repentance, announcer of the Kingdom of Heaven, one who left all things to follow Christ, founder of the Franciscans, doer of the impractical, spiritual upholder of the tottering Lateran Basilica, ordained Deacon, friend of Saint Clare, miracle worker, minister to crusaders, preacher to the Sultan, custodian of the Holy Places in Palestine, lover of the birds and fishes, master of knights and nobles, inventor of the Christmas manger scene, one who bore the wounds of Christ on the Cross, and one whose body was broken due to constant mortification, rebuilder of the Catholic Church.

Saint Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - icon and relic of Saint Francis of Assisi

Icon and relics of Saint Francis of Assisi, at Saint Anthony of Padua Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri. Photo taken after last night's observation of the Transitus of Saint Francis.

Excerpt from the Life of Saint Francis, written by his companion Thomas of Celano:
O how beautiful, how splendid, how glorious did he appear in the innocence of his life, in the simplicity of his words, in the purity of his heart, in his love for God, in his fraternal charity, in his ardent obedience, in his peaceful submission, in his angelic countenance! He was charming in his manners, serene by nature, affable in his conversation, most opportune in his exhortations, most faithful in what was entrusted to him, cautious in counsel, effective in business, gracious in all things. He was serene of mind, sweet of disposition, sober in spirit, raised up in contemplation, zealous in prayer, and in all things fervent. He was constant in purpose, stable in virtue, persevering in grace, and unchanging in all things. He was quick to pardon, slow to become angry, ready of wit, tenacious of memory, subtle in discussion, circumspect in choosing, and in all things simple. He was unbending with himself, understanding toward others, and discreet in all things.

He was a most eloquent man, a man of cheerful countenance, of kindly aspect; he was immune to cowardice, free of insolence. He was of medium height, closer to shortness; his head was moderate in size and round, his face a bit long and prominent, his forehead smooth and low; his eyes were of moderate size, black and sound; his hair was black, his eyebrows straight, his nose symmetrical, thin and straight; his ears were upright, but small; his temples smooth. His speech was peaceable, fiery and sharp; his voice was strong, sweet, clear, and sonorous. His teeth were set close together, even, and white; his lips were small and thin; his beard black, but not bushy. His neck was slender, his shoulders straight, his arms short, his hands slender, his fingers long, his nails extended; his legs were thin, his feet small. His skin was delicate, his flesh very spare. He wore rough garments, he slept but very briefly, he gave most generously. And because he was very humble, he showed all mildness to all persons, adapting himself usefully to the behaviour of all. The more holy amongst the holy, among sinners he was as one of them. Therefore, most Holy Father, help the sinners, you who loved sinners, and deign, we beg of you, most kindly to raise up by your most glorious intercession those whom you see lying in the mire of their sins.
A description of Saint Francis preaching to the birds, in the same work by Thomas of Celano:
Francis came to a certain place near Bevagna where a very great number of birds of various kinds had congregated - namely, doves, crows, and some others popularly called daws. When the most blessed servant of God, Francis, saw them, being a man of very great fervor and great tenderness toward lower creatures, he left his companions in the road and ran eagerly toward the birds. When he was close enough to them, seeing that they were waiting expectantly for him, he greeted them in his usual way. Not a little surprised that the birds did not rise in flight, as they usually do, he was filled with great joy and humbly begged them to listen to the word of God. Among the things he spoke to them were these words: " My brothers, birds, you should praise your creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you. God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part." At these words, Francis himself used to say and those too who were with him, the birds, rejoicing in a wonderful way according to their nature, began to stretch their necks, extend their wings, open their mouths, and gaze at him. And Francis, passing through their midst, went on his way and returned, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic. Finally he blessed them, and them after he had made the sign of the cross over them, he gave them permission to fly away to some other place. Francis went his way with his companions, rejoicing and giving thanks to God, whom all creatures venerate with humble acknowledgement.

But now that he had become simple by grace, not by nature, he began to blame himself for negligence in not having preached to the birds before, seeing that they had listened to the word of God with such reverence. And so it happened that, from that day on, he solicitously admonished all birds, all animals and reptiles, and even creatures that have no feeling, to praise and love their creator daily, when the name of the saviour has been invoked, for he saw their obedience by personal experience.

One day he came to a town called Alviano to preach the word of God. Ascending to where he could be seen by all, he asked for silence. The people became quiet and waited reverently, but a flock of swallows building nests in that place continued to chatter away, making it impossible for the people to hear. Francis spoke to them, "My sisters the swallows, it's my turn to speak now, because you've already said enough. Listen to the word of God. Stay still and be quiet until it's over." To the people's amazement, the little birds immediately stopped chattering and did not move until Francis had finished preaching. Those who witnessed this sign were filled with wonder and said, "truly this man is holy and a friend of the Most High." Praising and blessing God, they devoutly hurried at least to touch his clothing. And it is marvellous how those irrational creatures recognized his affection for them and sensed his love.

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