All for God
|All for God|
‘This is how God inspired me, Brother Francis, to embark upon a life of penance. When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure;
but then God himself led me into their company-and I had pity on them. When I had once become acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became a source of spiritual and physical consolation for me. After that I did not wait long before leaving the world.’
The memory of his having embraced the leper and his humble service to the most contemptible remained with Francis up to his death. The decisive meeting occurred in 1206. Francis was 24 years old.
KNIGHT OF ASSISI
He was born in 1182 to Peter Bernardone, one of the rich cloth merchants of Assisi. He grew and was raised to emulate the life of noble knights, becoming a pleasure-loving, extroverted young man. Although very quickly initiated to the merchant trade by his father, he soon abandoned the draper's shop for the merry parties of the countryside around Assisi. But, in his heart there remained the one ambitious dream of glory: to become a knight. What he did not receive by birthright he would obtain through money.
With all the enthusiasm of his youth and with the opportunities opened to him by his father's wealth, he was part of the explosion of liberty which his social class enjoyed in Assisi. If he was young in 1198 when the castle was attacked, the duke of Spoleto thrown out, and the palaces of nobles pillaged, Francis was certainly old enough in 1200 to help construct the walls of the free commune or town.
His first occasion to show himself equal to any knight presented itself in 1202 when war broke out between Perugia and Assisi. He was twenty years old and looked handsome in his amour, seated on his horse. But this bellicose, even if chivalrous, adventure finished badly. At Collestrada, close to Perugia, the men of Assisi were beaten and captured.
While in prison in Perugia (1203), young Francis proved himself strong in spirit but not quite so in body. A year later he was freed when his father paid a ransom. The effects of this imprisonment made themselves felt shortly after: he fell sick for a long time (1204). Still another chivalrous expedition, that of 1205, turned out badly. Indeed, he abandoned the undertaking immediately.
Setting out as a pilgrim to Rome, he made himself poor with the poor. He exchanged his clothes with a mendicant and begged for alms at the doors of St. Peter's. In search of God's will, he lived in solitary places, dedicating himself to long and intense periods of prayer. He struggled against inner temptations and conflicts. Disagreements with his father further put him to the test.
HE LEFT THE WORLD
Spiritually tormented, Francis heard within his heart words of encouragement: ‘prefer what is bitter to what is sweet and hold yourself in low esteem.’ His meeting with the leper threw its own particular light on the truth of what he heard within himself. Then, while he was praying in the old, dilapidated Church of St. Damian, something even more unusual occurred: Christ spoke to him from the cross: ‘Francis, go repair my house which is falling down.’
Promptly obedient to that voice, he set on a course of action which would bring to a head the critical situation that had slowly developed in his family. He picked some of the most expensive cloths from his father's shop and left for Foligno where he sold everything, including his horse. On his way back, he went to the priest of St. Damian to give him the money for the church's reconstruction. When the priest refused to take it, Francis threw the money onto a windowsill. The next day, the civil authorities of Assisi ordered him to appear in court: his father, Peter Bernardone, had decided to disinherit him. Francis, however, had already made up his mind: Peter Bernardone would not disinherit him; he would choose freely to serve his heavenly Father.
The townspeople spoke of the scene for some time. They had run to the Bishop's square, curious to see what would happen. The whole matter was handled quickly. Peter Bernardone presented the case against his spendthrift son to Bishop Guido. In answer, the Bishop ordered Francis to repay whatever he owed his father. At that point, Francis took off his clothes and gave them to his father, saying: ‘From now on I can freely say 'Our Father who art in heaven,' not 'father Peter Bernardone,' to whom, behold, I give back not only the money, but all my clothes too.’
Francis had finally committed himself; he radically broke with his past. Dressed as a hermit, he returned to the old priest of Saint Damian and lived as his guest, offering to repair the small church. Francis begged in and around Assisi for the stones he needed, and the poor priest shared his meager meals with him.
One day, Francis left the priest and climbed the hill from St. Damian to Assisi in order to beg for his own food. Later, he would call begging ‘the table of the poor’ or ‘the table of the Lord,’ but at first he experienced great shame. In the Rule for his friars he wrote: ‘They should beg alms trustingly. And there is no reason why they should be ashamed, because God made himself poor for us in this world...’ (Rule of 1223, VI)
This was another step in Francis' victory over himself, similar to his loving acceptance of the leper who had crossed his path. As he later explained, he had wed Lady Poverty.
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