Thursday, October 4, 2012

St Francis of Assisi

From a fresco at the Assisi basilica

Probably one of the most beloved and well-known Saints, even among non-Catholics, St Francis became affectionately known as the patron saint of animals. And in his honor, we bless our dogs, our cats, our lizards, horses and noisy cockatiels every year. He became one of the Church's most efficient reformers and started by reforming himself. The son of a cloth-merchant, one day he stripped naked in the local piazza and gave his father everything he had, including the clothes he was wearing. Instead he put on him a simple robe and gathered around him a few other men (among them St Anthony) and thus started the Franciscan order.
The catalyst for this move came after a vision he had at the church of San Damiano, when Jesus spoke to him through the famous colorful cross and asked him to go and rebuild his church. This meant literally and figuratively, because he did fix the dilapidated church, but also founded an order which is still going very strong around the world, 800 years after its foundation.
Later in his life, St Francis received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ and also inspired St Clare to start the female counterpart of the Franciscan Order, the Poor Clares. He was also known to have created the first nativity during the Christmas midnight Mass, taking the image of the baby Jesus down to the crypt, where he had already placed a donkey and cow and a manger with straw. 

To many of us, St Francis may seem out of touch with reality, rather than a profound philosopher. But that's exactly the kind of people the church needs even today, down-to-earth workers, with a good scale of values and who know where their priorities are. Francis lived a short life, born in 1181 and dying in 1226, but in his short life, he started a revolution of love, compassion, charitable work and encouraged everyone for a life of poverty, a lifestyle that all the Franciscans around the word still imitate.

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