Francis of Assisi our Founder and Founder of the Franciscan Order, born at Assisi in Umbria, in 1181. Francis enjoyed a very rich easy life growing up because of his father’s wealth and the permissiveness of the times. As he grew up, Francis became the leader of a crowd of young people who spent their nights in wild parties. Francis wanted to be a noble, a knight. Battle was the best place to win the glory and prestige he longed for. Finally a call for knights for the Fourth Crusade gave him a chance for his dream.
But Francis never got farther than one day’s ride from Assisi. There he had a dream in which God told him he had it all wrong and told him to return home. And return home he did. What must it have been like to return without ever making it to battle — the boy who wanted nothing more than to be liked was humiliated, laughed at, called a coward by the village and raged at by his father for the money wasted on armour.
Francis’ conversion did not happen over night. God had waited for him for twenty-five years and now it was Francis’ turn to wait. Francis started to spend more time in prayer. He went off to a cave and wept for his sins. Sometimes God’s grace overwhelmed him with joy. His search for conversion led him to the ancient church at San Damiano. While he was praying there, he heard Christ on the crucifix speak to him, “Francis, repair my church.” Francis went back to what he considered God’s call. He begged for stones and rebuilt the San Damiano church with his own hands, not realizing that it was the Church with a capital C that God wanted repaired. Scandal and avarice were working on the Church from the inside while outside heresies flourished by appealing to those longing for something different or adventurous.
Soon Francis started to preach. (He was never a priest, though he was later ordained a deacon under his protest.) Francis was not a reformer; he preached about returning to God and obedience to the Church. Slowly companions came to Francis, people who wanted to follow his life of sleeping in the open, begging for garbage to eat…and loving God.
Francis never wanted to found a religious order — this former knight thought that sounded too military. He thought of what he was doing as expressing God’s brotherhood. His companions came from all walks of life, from fields and towns, nobility and common people, universities, the Church, and the merchant class. Francis practiced true equality by showing honour, respect, and love to every person whether they were beggar or pope.
Francis’ brotherhood included all of God’s creation. Much has been written about Francis’ love of nature but his relationship was deeper than that. We call someone a lover of nature if they spend their free time in the woods or admire its beauty. But Francis really felt that nature, all God’s creations, were part of his brotherhood. The sparrow was as much his brother as the pope.
Francis was a man of action. His simplicity of life extended to ideas and deeds. If there was a simple way, no matter how impossible it seemed, Francis would take it. Years of poverty and wandering had made Francis ill. Francis never recovered from this illness. He died on October 4, 1226 at the age of 45. Francis is considered the founder of all Franciscan orders and the patron saint of ecologists and merchants.