St Francis : History, Peace Prayer


The story of St. Francis

ThFrancis was born at Assisi in Umbria in 1181 or 1182.  His father was a prosperous merchant, and Francis planned to follow him in his trade, although he also had dreams of being a troubadour or a knight.  In 1201 he took part in an attack on Perugia, was taken hostage, and remained a captive there for a year.  As a result of his captivity and a severe illness his mind began to turn to religion, but around 1205 he enlisted in another military expedition, to Apulia.  However, he had a dream in which God called him to his service, and he returned to Assisi and began to care for the sick.  In 1206, he had a vision in which Christ called him to repair His Church.  Francis interpreted this as a command to repair the church of San Damiano, near Assisi.  He resolved to become a hermit, and devoted himself to repairing the church.  His father, angry and embarrassed by Francis' behavior, imprisoned him and brought him before the bishop as disobedient.  Francis abandoned all his rights and possessions, including his clothes.  Two years later he felt himself called to preach, and was soon joined by companions.  When they numbered eleven he gave them a short Rule and received approval from Pope Innocent III for the brotherhood, which Francis called the Friars Minor.


The friars traveled throughout central Italy and beyond, preaching for people to turn from the world to Christ.  In his life and preaching, Francis emphasized simplicity and poverty, relying on God's providence rather than worldly goods.  The brothers worked or begged for what they needed to live, and any surplus was given to the poor.  Francis turned his skills as a troubadour to the writing of prayers and hymns. 


In 1212 Saint Clara Sciffi, a girl from a noble family of Assisi, left her family to join Francis.  With his encouragement she founded a sisterhood at San Damiano, the Poor Ladies, later the Poor Clares.


One of Francis's most famous sermons is one he gave to a flock of birds.  One day while Francis and some friars were traveling along the road, Francis looked up and saw the trees full of birds.  Francis "left his companions in the road and ran eagerly toward the birds" and "humbly begged them to listen to the word of God."  One of the friars recorded the sermon, which overflows with Francis's love for creation and its Creator: "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."


Thomas of Celano records that the birds stretched their necks and extended their wings as Francis walked among them touching and blessing them.  This event was a turning point of sorts for Francis.  "He began to blame himself for negligence in not having preached to the birds before" and "from that day on, he solicitously admonished the birds, all animals and reptiles, and even creatures that have no feeling, to praise and love their Creator."


In time the brotherhood became more organized.  As large numbers of people, attracted to the preaching and example of Francis, joined him, Francis had to delegate responsibility to others.  Eventually he wrote a more detailed Rule, which was further revised by the new leaders of the Franciscans.  He gave up leadership of the Order and went to the mountains to live in secluded prayer.  There he received the Stigmata, the wounds of Christ.  He returned to visit the Franciscans, and Clara and her sisters, and a few of his followers remained with him.  He died at the Porziuncula on October 3, 1226.


Francis called for simplicity of life, poverty, and humility before God.  He worked to care for the poor, and one of his first actions after his conversion was to care for lepers.  Thousands were drawn to his sincerity, piety, and joy.  In all his actions, Francis sought to follow fully and literally the way of life demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels.  His respect and appreciation for creation was so profound because it always led him to the Creator.


For Francis, the Eucharist became the deepest source of support for his desire for cosmic peace and reconciliation.  Just two years before he died, St. Francis said:  "I beseech all of you, by whatever charity I can, that you show reverence and all honor to the most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, because (in Him) all things, whether on earth or in heaven have been pacified and reconciled with Almighty God".


Every year on the Sunday nearest his October 4 feast day, Catholic and other Christian churches around the world host services where animals are blessed.  These services are a powerful way to celebrate both Francis's and God's compassionate concern for all creatures.


Francis is well known for the "Canticle of Brother Sun."  Written late in the saint's life, when blindness had limited his sight of the outside world, the canticle shows that his imagination was alive with love for creation.  Visit our Prayers I section to read this wonderful prayer.


Saint Francis of Assisi consented to being ordained to the Diaconate but not to the Priesthood.   Probably no saint has affected so many in so many different ways as the gentle Saint of Assisi who, born to wealth, devoted his life to poverty, concern for the poor and the sick, and so delighted in God's works as revealed in nature. 

Brothers in Christ
Capuchins are men of varied talents and interests, bound together by the common call to express the Gospel in all its richness. We try to live the life of Jesus after the manner of Saint Francis of Assisi, our founder, who wished us to be called the order of 'friars minor' - that is, 'lesser brothers.' As such we try to imitate the poor and humble Jesus Christ who is brother to all. Indeed, it is the Lord Himself who instills His spirit in us. He takes men, old and young, rural and urban, thinkers and workers, artists and mechanics, labourers and preachers, of every language and culture, and brings them together. He pours into their hearts that spirit that filled Francis and his early brotherhood.


Brothers to One Another
We try to live the Gospel life together as a Franciscan brotherhood. Some are priests, some are artists, teachers, mechanics, etc.; but whatever occupation a friar may this love is an integral part of our life that shapes both who we are and what we do. This call to gospel brotherhood, lived in simplicity and joy, was expressed by Francis in parts of the rule of life he set out for all who wished to join him:
"And wherever any of the friars may be and shall meet other friars, let them all treat each other as members of one family, and confidently make known their needs', for if a mother loves and cherishes her son according to the flesh, how much more diligently ought everyone to cherish and love him who is his brother according to the spirit." - St. Francis of Assisi.Brothers to all creation "Praised be You, my Lord,with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, who is the day and through whom You give us light" (St. Francis of Assisi).
Francis was deeply aware of the beauty of the world about him. His profound respect for nature came from an intuition of God's creative love which he experienced as manifest in the wonder of creation.  We are privileged to inherit this spirit of brotherhood to all of creation and strive to keep it alive to-day in our actions and attitudes with regard to contemporary ecological issues.