The fourth of October, the Month of the Most Holy Rosary, is dedicated to that great Saint of Assisi, Italy: Saint Francis. He is one of the greatest saints that ever walked the earth: the great patriarch of the Order of Friars Minor. Sadly, he is also one of the most misunderstood and maligned saints in our modern day. In too many cases he has been reduced to a tree hugging hippie of sorts that supposedly lead a revolution against the “dark and gloomy medieval Church”. The film “Brother Sun Sister Moon” has done immense damage to the true image of Saint Francis in the modern day for in a most wretched display of blasphemy depicts him gathering people around an altar covered in produce and little bunnies hopping around and this is then juxtaposed with the “gloomy Catholics” attending holy Mass. Unbelievable! If there was one saint who had an incredible devotion to Holy Mass it was Saint Francis! Far from the warm and fuzzy image that has been presented in such terrible movies as this one we ought to prayerfully consider and mediate up the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon written by Saint Francis:
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.
Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon
for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
By You Most High, they will be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.
One thing that is most disturbing are the number of people who are utterly unaware of the incredible devotion to our Lady that Saint Francis had. Even more disturbing are entire communities of Franciscans who have little or no real devotion to the Mother of God and don’t see any problem with that fact. These are not true sons and daughters of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, no indeed. Not only was Saint Francis exceptionally devoted to Mary, but on his deathbed some of his last words were to commend his fledgling order into the hands of our Blessed Mother.
The only greater devotion than to our blessed mother that he had was to the Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and his reverence was so great that never became a priest, but rather remained a lowly deacon assisting the priest at Holy Mass.
One last interesting point on this Saint is the Franciscan tradition about the place of Saint Francis in heaven. To set the stage let us first look at a quote from True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin by Saint Louis Marie de Montfort:
“Mary has the authority over the angels and the blessed in heaven. As a reward for her great humility, God gave her the power and mission of assigning to saints the thrones made vacant by the apostate angels who fell away through pride. Such is the will of the almighty God who exalts the humble, that the powers of heaven, earth and hell, willingly or unwillingly, must obey the commands of the humble Virgin Mary. For God has made her queen of heaven and earth, leader of his armies, keeper of his treasure, dispenser of his graces, mediatrix on behalf of men, destroyer of his enemies, and faithful associate in his great works and triumphs.”
Now there is one very special throne: that of Lucifer who was the greatest of the angels and thus would have the most glorious throne. This throne was to be given to the greatest Saint that ever lived and who most certainly was the most greatly devoted to Mary. From a vision of one of Saint Francis’ companions it is believed that non-other than he was given this throne:
“When the morning came, Francis’ companion returned to the church and found him prostrate before the altar, so he waited for him outside the choir and then also began to pray devoutly before the cross. And behold he went into ecstasy and saw among the many thrones in heaven one that was more honorable than all the rest, ornamented with precious stones and radiant with glory. He wondered at this noble throne and whose it might be, and while he was thinking about these things, he heard a voice saying to him: ‘This throne belonged to one of the fallen angels but now it is reserved for humble Francis.’ At length, coming back to himself, the brother saw Francis returning from his prayers. He quickly prostrated himself at Francis’ feet and spoke to him, not as one living but as one already reigning in heaven: ‘Father, pray to the Son of God for me that He will not impute my sins to me.’ Francis stretched out his hand and raised him up, recognizing that he must have been shown something in his prayers. As they began to leave that place, the brother asked blessed Francis, “Father, what is your opinion of yourself?’ And Francis replied, ‘It seems to me that I am the greatest of sinners, for if God had treated any criminal with such mercy as he has shown to me, that man would have been ten times more spiritual than myself.’ But the Holy Spirit said in the heart of the brother, ‘Know that the vision you saw was in fact true, for humility will raise this humble man to the throne that was lost through pride.'”
It is an interesting story to be sure and one that many pious men and women have been inclined to believe. There is one other that says that when Saint Francis went to heaven and was presented before the angels they were confused and asked: “Is this Francis or is this our Lord?”, because Saint Francis had so perfectly conformed himself to Jesus Christ and had made himself a perfect image of our Lord.
And so here now is one of Saint Francis’ prayers to our Lady:
Holy Virgin Mary,
there is none like you among women born in the world.
Daughter and handmaid of the heavenly Father,
the almighty King,
Mother of our most high Lord Jesus Christ,
and Spouse of the Holy Spirit,
pray for us to your most holy Son,
our Lord and Master.
Hail holy Lady,
most noble Queen,
Mother of God,
and Mary ever Virgin.
You were chosen by the heavenly Father,
who has been pleased to honour you
with the presence of his most holy Son
and the Divine Paraclete.
You were blessed with the fulness of grace and goodness.
Hail, Temple of God,
His dwelling place,
Hail, Mother of God,
I venerate you for the holy virtues that,
through the grace and light of the Holy Spirit,
you bring into the hearts
of your devoted ones
to change them from unfaithful Christians
to faithful children of God. Amen.
Another aspect of the life of Saint Francis that has been lost upon modern society and modern Catholics, in particular concerning recent events in the Church, is his great zeal for souls. And the most striking aspect of this was his great desire for the conversion of Muslims from Islam to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. The whole story is laid out quite well in the book: St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims. Suffice it to give here the short account of the encounter between Saint Francis and the Sultan:
The Orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic had been approved by word of mouth, by Innocent III., who died in 1219, having sat eighteen years. 13 Honorius III., who succeeded him, confirmed that of St. Dominic by two bulls dated the 22nd of December, 1216. St. Francis obtained of this pope an approbation of his missions; and in 1219 set sail with B. Illuminatus of Reate and other companions from Ancona, and having touched at Cyprus landed at Acon or Ptolemais, in Palestine. The Christian army in the sixth crusade lay at that time before Damiata in Egypt, and the Sultan of Damascus or Syria, led a numerous army to the assistance of Meledin, Sultan of Egypt or Babylon; for so he was more commonly called, because he resided at Babylon in Egypt, a city on the Nile, opposite to the ruins of Memphis; Grand Cairo rose out of the ashes of this Babylon. St. Francis with brother Illuminatus hastened to the Christian army, and upon his arrival endeavoured to dissuade them from giving the enemy battle, foretelling their defeat as we are assured by three of his companions; also by St. Bonaventure, 14 Cardinal James of Vitri, who was then present in the army, 15 and Marin Sanut. 16 He was not heard, and the Christians were driven back into their trenches with the loss of six thousand men. However, they continued the siege, and took the city on the 5th of November the same year. In the mean time St. Francis, burning with zeal for the conversion of the Saracens, desired to pass to their camp, fearing no dangers for Christ. He was seized by the scouts of the infidels, to whom he cried out: “I am a Christian; conduct me to your master.” Being brought before the Sultan, and asked by him his errand, he said with wonderful intrepidity and fervour: “I am sent, not by men, but by the most high God, to show you and your people the way of salvation, by announcing to you the truth of the gospel.” The Sultan appeared to be moved, and invited him to stay with him. The man of God replied: “If you and your people will listen to the word of God, I will with joy stay with you. If yet you waver between Christ and Mahomet, cause a great fire to be kindled, and I will go into it with your Imams (or priests) that you may see which is the true faith.” The Sultan answered, that he did not believe any of their priests would be willing to go into the fire, or to suffer torments for their religion, and that he could not accept his condition for fear of a sedition. He offered him many presents, which the saint refused. After some days, the Sultan, apprehending lest some should be converted by his discourse, and desert to the Christians, sent him, escorted by a strong guard, to their camp before Damiata, saying to him privately: “Pray for me, that God may make known to me the true religion, and conduct me to it.” The Sultan became from that time very favourable to the Christians, and according to some authors was baptized a little before his death.
Now to read the best life written on Saint Francis one would have to most highly recommend the original official biography written by the great Franciscan Doctor of the Church: Saint Bonaventure who was in fact a contemporary with his father in religion and this is called: The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi. One could also highly recommend: Saint Francis of Assisi, by G.K. Chesterton, and a wonderful novelized version of his life called: The Joyful Beggar, by Louis de Wohl.
Finally we will conclude with the Bull of Canonization of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Mira circa nos
Pope Gregory IX
Given on the occasion of the canonization of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226 A. D.) in 1228 A. D.
1. How wondrously considerate of us is God’s pity! How priceless a love of charity which would sacrifice a Son to redeem a slave! God neither neglected the gifts of his mercy nor failed to protect uninterruptedly the vineyard planted by his hand. He sent laborers into it at the eleventh hour to cultivate it, and with their hoes and plowshares to uproot the thorns and thistles, as did Samgar when he killed 600 Philistines (Judges 3: 31). After the copious branches were pruned and the sucker roots with the briars were pulled out, this vineyard will produce a luscious, appetizing fruit, one capable of storage in the wine cellar of eternity, once purified in the wine-press of patience. Wickedness had indeed blazed like fire, and the human heart had grown cold, so as to destroy the wall surrounding this vineyard, just as the attacking Philistines were destroyed by the poison of worldly pleasures.
2. Behold how the Lord, when he destroyed the earth by water, saved the just man with a contemptible piece of wood (Wis. 10:4), did not allow the scepter of the ungodly to fall upon the lot of the just (Ps 124:3). Now, at the eleventh hour, he has called forth his servant, Blessed Francis, a man after his own heart (I Sam 13: 14). This man was a light, despised by the rich, nonetheless prepared for the appointed moment. Him the Lord sent into his vineyard to uproot the thorns and thistles. God cast down this lamp before the attacking Philistines, thus illumining his own land and with earnest exhortation warning it to be reconciled with God.
3. On hearing within his soul his friend’s voice of invitation Francis without hesitation arose, and as another Samson strengthened by God’s grace, shattered the fetters of a flattering world. Filled with the zeal of the Spirit and seizing the jawbone of an ass, he conquered not only a thousand, but many thousands of Philistines (Judges 15: 15-16) by his simple preaching, unadorned with the persuasive words of human wisdom (I Cor 1:17), and made forceful by the power of God, who chooses the weak of this world to confound the strong (I Cor 1:17). With the help of God he accomplished this: God who touches mountains and they smoke (Ps 103:32), so bringing to spiritual service those who were once slaves to the allurements of the flesh. For those who died to sin and live only for God and not for themselves (namely, whose worse part has died), there flowed from this jawbone an abundant stream of water: refreshing, cleansing, rendering fruitful the fallen, downtrodden and thirsty. This river of water reaching unto eternal life (Jn 7: 38), might be purchased without silver and without cost (Is 55:1), and like branches far and wide its rivulets watered the vineyard whose branches extended unto the sea and its boughs unto the river (Ps 79:12).
4. After the example of our father Abraham, this man forgot not only his country and acquaintances, but also his father’s house, to go to a land which the Lord had shown him by divine inspiration (Gen 12). Pushing aside any obstacle he pressed on to win the prize of his heavenly call (Phil. 3:14). Conforming himself to Him (Rom 8:29) who, though rich, for our sake became poor (II Cor 8:9), he unburdened himself of a heavy load of material possessions so as to pass easily through the narrow gate (Mt 7:13). He disbursed his wealth to the poor, so that his justice might endure forever (Ps 111:9).
Nearing the land of vision he offered his own body as a holocaust to the Lord upon one of the mountains indicated to him (Gen 22:2), the mountain which is the excellence of faith. His flesh, which now and then had tricked him, he sacrificed as Jephte his only daughter (Judges 11:34), lighting under it the fire of love, punishing it with hunger, thirst, cold, nakedness and with many fasts and vigils. When it had been crucified with its vices and concupiscences (Gal 5:24), he could say with the Apostle: “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). For he really did not live for himself any longer, but rather for Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification (Rom 4:25), that we might no longer be slaves to sin (Rom 6:6).
Uprooting his vices and like Jacob arising at the Lord’s command (Gen 35:1-11) he renounced wife and farm and oxen and all which might distract those invited to the great feast (Lk 14:15-20), and took up the battle with the world, the flesh and the spiritual forces of wickedness on high. And as he had received the sevenfold grace of the Spirit and the help of the eight beatitudes of the Gospel, he journeyed to Bethel, the house of God, on a path which he had traced in the fifteen steps of the virtues mystically represented in the Psalter (gradual Psalms). After he had made of his heart an altar for the Lord, he offered upon it the incense of devout prayers to be taken up to the Lord at the hands of angels whose company he would soon join.
5. But that he might not be the only one to enjoy the blessings of the mountain, clinging exclusively to the embraces of Rachel, as it were to a life of contemplation lovely but sterile, he descended to the forbidden house of Leah to lead into the desert the flock fertile with twins (Cant 4:2) and seeking pastures of life Gen 29). There, where the manna of heavenly sweetness restores all who have been separated from the noisy world, he would be seated with the princes of his people and crowned with the crown of justice. Sowing his seed in tears, he would come back rejoicing carrying his sheaves to the storehouse of eternity (Ps 125:5-6).
Surely he sought not his own interests (Phil 2:21), but those of Christ, serving Him zealously like the proverbial bee. As the morning star in the midst of a cloud, and as the moon at the full (Eccles. 50,6), he took in his hands a lamp with which to draw the humble by the example of his glorious deeds, and a trumpet wherewith to recall the shameless with stern and fearsome warnings from their wicked abandon.
Thus strengthened by charity he courageously took possession of the Midianite camp (Judges 7:16-22), that is, the camp of those who contemptuously disregard the teaching of the Church, with the support of Him who encompassed the whole world by His authority, even while still cloistered in the Virgin’s womb. He captured the weapons on which the well-armed man trusted while guarding his house and parceling out his spoils (Lk 11:21-22), and he led captivity captive in submission to Jesus Christ (Eph 4:8).
6. After defeating the threefold earthly enemy, he did violence to the kingdom of heaven and seized it by force (Mt 11:12). After many glorious battles in this life he triumphed over the world, and he who was knowingly unlettered and wisely foolish, happily returned to the Lord to take the first place before many others more learned.
7. Plainly a life such as his, so holy, so passionate, so brilliant, was enough to win him a place in the Church Triumphant. Yet, because the Church Militant, which can only observe the outer appearances, does not presume to judge on its own authority those not sharing its actual state, it proposes for veneration as Saints only those whose lives on earth merited such, especially because an angel of Satan sometimes transforms himself into an angel of light (II Cor 11:14). In his generosity the omnipotent and merciful God has provided that the aforementioned Servant of Christ did come and serve Him worthily and commendably. Not permitting so great a light to remain hidden under a bushel, but wishing to put it on a lampstand to console those dwelling in the house of light (Mt 5:15), God declared through many brilliant miracles that his life has been acceptable to God and his memory should be honored by the Church Militant.
8. Therefore, since the wondrous events of his glorious life are quite well known to us because of the great familiarity he had with us while we still occupied a lower rank, and since we are fully convinced by reliable witnesses of the many brilliant miracles, we and the flock entrusted to us, by the mercy of God, are confident of being assisted at his intercession and of having in heaven a patron whose friendship we enjoyed on earth. With the consultation and approval of our Brothers, we have decreed that he be enrolled in the catalogue of saints worthy of veneration.
9. We decree that his birth be celebrated worthily and solemnly by the universal Church on the fourth of October, the day on which he entered the kingdom of heaven, freed from the prison of the flesh.
10. Hence, in the Lord we beg, admonish and exhort all of you, we command you by this apostolic letter, that on this day reserved to honor his memory, you dedicate yourselves more intensely to the divine praises, and humbly to implore his patronage, so that through his intercession and merits you might be found worthy of joining his company with the help of Him who is blessed forever. Amen.
Given at Perugia, on the fourteenth calends of August, in the second year of our pontificate.