Autumn reminds us of St. Francis Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Sep. 30, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' eyes, by Fr. Donald LangeWe celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4. This is appropriate because Francis loved God’s creation.

During autumn, God creatively works through nature to convert fall’s leaves to a beautiful scarlet and gold. This change reminds us that God changed Francis from a carefree green youth into a committed Christ-like saint. His conversion invites us to ask God to also change us.

Through the ages, Catholics, non-Catholics, and non-Christians have loved Francis. He has influenced millions by his pure Christ-like goodness, love of creation, and joy.

Because Francis is my middle name, I consider him to be my patron saint.

The early life of Francis

Francis was born at Assisi in 1181 or 1182. Pietro Bernardone, his father, was a prosperous merchant. Francis planned to follow in his footsteps. He also dreamed of being a troubadour or knight who won fame and honor.

In 1201 he joined an attack on Perugia, a rival city. He was captured and imprisoned for a year. He became severely ill and turned to God, gradually.

Around 1205 he joined another military expedition to Apulia, another rival city. Hoping to win glory, he bought an expensive suit of armor decorated with gold. After a day’s ride from Assisi, Francis dreamed that God told him to return home and serve him.

Once home, he was humiliated, ridiculed, and called a coward by villagers. His father scolded him for the money he wasted on armor.

A slow conversion

After this, Francis started to spend more time in prayer. Sometimes God’s grace overwhelmed him with joy. His conversion was slow, yet steady.

Once Francis unexpectedly encountered a leper. Repelled by the leper’s appearance and smell, Francis nevertheless kissed his hand. The leper returned his kiss, and Francis rejoiced. As he rode away, he turned to wave, but the leper disappeared. Francis treasured this encounter as a test from God that he passed.

In 1206, while he prayed at the run-down church at San Damiano, he heard Christ on the crucifix speak, “Francis, repair my church.” Francis assumed this meant the crumbling church where he knelt.

So Francis sold fabric from his father’s shop to get money to repair the church. His father considered this stealing. He dragged Francis before the bishop and demanded that he return the money and renounce all rights as heir.

The bishop advised Francis to return the money and trust that God would provide. He did. Then Francis abandoned all his rights and possessions, including his clothes.

Wearing castoff rags, he left his father and went into the frigid woods, singing. After this, Francis who had nothing had everything.

Rebuilding the Church

After rebuilding San Damiano and two other churches, Francis realized that Christ wanted him to help rebuild the Church as people, not buildings.

Scandal, avarice, and heresies had weakened the Church. So Francis began to preach. He emphasized simplicity and poverty, relying on God’s providence rather than worldly goods.

Companions soon joined him. He gave them a short Rule which Pope Innocent III approved. He called them Friars Minor. They worked or begged for what they needed. Surplus was given to the poor.

Francis turned his troubadour skills to writing prayers and hymns for Christ.

With Francis’ encouragement, Saint Clare founded a sisterhood at San Damiano, called the Poor Ladies. Later they were named the Poor Clares.

Concern for all God’s creatures

The Church honors Francis as the patron saint of animals and ecology. Every year on the Sunday nearest his October 4 feast day, Catholic and other Christian churches around the world offer services where animals are blessed. These services celebrate God’s concern for all creatures.

Francis believed that as God’s creatures, it is our duty to protect and enjoy nature as stewards of God’s creation. He is well known for writing the “Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.”

His respect of creation led him to the Creator. Saint Francis became a deacon, but he felt he was unworthy of the priesthood. He was strengthened by the Eucharist which he loved. Francis shows us that simplicity of life frees us to love worship and serve God.

Francis sought to follow fully and literally the gospel way of life demonstrated by Christ. As Francis prayed to share in Christ’s passion, he received in his own body the stigmata, the marks of the nails and the lance wound that Christ suffered.

Christ continues to rebuild his Church through the spirit of Christ embodied in St. Francis. In the prayer of St. Francis we ask for Francis’ Christ-like spirit when we pray that we might not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be loved as to love, to be understood as to understand, for it is in giving that we receive.

It has been said that when Francis died there was silence. Then the birds sang. Amen.


Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.