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Reflections: On St. Francis of Assisi (Misc.)

St. Francis of Assisi

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On St. Francis of Assisi (Misc.)

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"This humble Saint is wont to succor all those who call upon him in any necessity, however trifling it may be." (St. Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church)

"Certainly, Francis was sent with the Gospel of Christ especially to his own times, at the turn of the 12th century, at the height of the Italian Middle Ages, which was a period splendid and difficult at the same time: but every era has preserved something of this in itself. Still the Franciscan mission is not yet ended; it is still going on." (Pope John Paul II)

"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." (Pope Gregory IX, Mira Circa Nos, 1228)

"May it please Heaven that they who, through devotion to the Saint either find pleasure in these lesser praises of the man of Assisi or labor with zeal to promote the success of this Centenary, all worthy of Our praise, may, by the happy recurrence of his feast, draw from his life strong motives to examine more profoundly the true picture of this great imitator of Christ and thus themselves aspire to higher ideals." (Pope Pius XI, "Rite Expiatis", 1926)

"Concerning the honors that are being prepared for St. Francis, it should be borne in mind that, above all, these honors will be agreeable to him to whom they are given only when they have been made fruitful by the one who actually offers them. In this then alone can We hope for lasting fruits, when those men who admire his great virtues seek to copy in some way this man, and in imitating him make themselves better." (Pope Leo XIII, Auspicato, 1882)

"Some will say, perhaps, that to restore Christian society another Francis is needed today. But We say, do what you can to make men take up again with renewed zeal the ancient Francis as their teacher of piety and sanctity; do what you can that they imitate and follow the example which he has left us, that they accept him as a man who was 'a mirror of virtue, a path of righteousness, a rule of morals.' (Breviary of Friars Minor) If this be done, will it not in itself be enough to heal and even put an end to the corruption of our own times?" (Pope Pius XI, "Rite Expiatis", 1926)

"St. Francis, 'a man who was truly Catholic and apostolic,' in the same admirable fashion that he had attended to the reformation of the faithful, so likewise set about personally and commanded his disciples to occupy themselves before everything else with the conversion of the heathen to the Faith and Law of Christ. Nor need We dwell at length on a subject so well known to all. Moved by an ardent desire to spread the Gospel and even to undergo martyrdom, he did not hesitate to go to Egypt and there bravely to appear in the very presence of the Sultan." (Pope Pius XI, "Rite Expiatis", 1926)

"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)." (Pope Gregory IX, Mira Circa Nos, 1228)

"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. 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." (Pope Gregory IX, Mira Circa Nos, 1228)

"Further, Francis was powerless to contain in the recesses of his heart the seraphic love which consumed him for God and his brothers; he was compelled to permit it to overflow on all the souls which he could reach. Thus it was that he set himself to reform the individual and family life of his disciples in forming them to the practice of the Christian virtues with such ardor as would make one believe that it was all his program. But he did not dream that he ought to limit himself to this; individual conversion was but an instrument of which he availed himself to reawaken in the bosom of society love of Christian wisdom, and to gain all men for Christ." (Pope Benedict XV, "Sacra Propediem", 1921)

"Since Our immediate Predecessor has assigned this Saint, who was sent by Divine Providence for the reformation not only of the turbulent age in which he lived but of Christian society of all times, as the patron of 'Catholic Action,' it is only right that Our children who labor in this field according to Our commands should in union with the numerous Franciscan brotherhood call to mind and praise the works, the virtues, and the spirit of the Seraphic Patriarch. While doing this, they must reject that purely imaginary figure of the Saint conjured up by the defenders of modern error or by the followers of luxury and worldly comforts, and seek to bring Christians to the faithful imitation of the ideal of sanctity which he exemplified in himself and which he learned from the purity and simplicity of the doctrines of the Gospels." (Pope Pius XI, "Rite Expiatis", 1926)

"O victim dear of heavenly love, Impurpled by thy fivefold sign, Saint Francis, father of the poor, Of Jesus' Cross a living shrine. Thou, burning with the glowing flames of love of God and love of man, dost yearn for Christ to shed thy blood and thrice dost try the seas to span. Although denied thy heart's desire, Thou lettest not thine ardor wane; But kindled still with love divine To stir new fires thou strivest amain. Still living in thine Orders three, thou art found in many a savage clime; and frozen hearts, warmed at thy flame, grow fervent with thy fire sublime. So shalt thou crush the powers of hell, Thy conquering arms our foes dismay when Holy Church doth seem to fail, still is thy mighty strength her stay. Come, help us, father, while we pray, thy love within our hearts inspire, thy boundless love, that spreads abroad the glowing brightness of its fire. Praise we the Father and the Son, Praise we the Holy Paraclete: He grant us grace to emulate our father's spirit, as fitting. Amen." (Hymn, cf. Raccolta)

"He knew that we can best measure the towering miracle of the mere fact of existence if we realize that but for some strange mercy we should not even exist. And something of that larger truth is repeated in a lesser form in our own relations with so mighty a maker of history. He also is a giver of things we could not have thought of for ourselves; he also is too great for anything but gratitude. From him came a whole awakening of the world and a dawn in which all shapes and colors could be seen anew. The mighty men of genius who made the Christian civilization that we know appear in history almost as his servants and imitators. Before Dante was, he had given poetry to Italy; before St. Louis ruled, he had risen as the tribune of the poor; and before Giotto had pained the pictures, he had enacted the scenes. That great painter who begin the whole human inspiration of European painting had himself gone to St. Francis to be inspired." (G. K. Chesterton)

"There was a dearth of such virtue in the twelfth century; for too many among men, enslaved by the things of this world, either coveted madly honors and wealth, or lived a life of luxury and self-gratification. All power was centered in a few, and had almost become an instrument of oppression to the wretched and despised masses; and those even who ought by their profession to have been an example to others, had not avoided defiling themselves with the prevalent vices. The extinction of charity in divers places was followed by scourges manifold and daily; envy, jealousy, hatred, were rife; and minds were so divided and hostile that on the slightest pretext neighboring cities waged war amongst themselves, and individuals armed themselves against one another. In this century appeared St. Francis. Yet with wondrous resolution and simplicity he undertook to place before the eyes of the aging world, in his words and deeds, the complete model of Christian perfection." (Pope Leo XIII, "Auspicato Concessum", 1882)

"Shortly after his death, churches dedicated to the Seraphic Father and admirable for the beauty of their architecture and treasures of art began to rise, due to the wishes of the people to honor him. The most famous artists competed one with another as to who should succeed in portraying with the greatest perfection and beauty the likeness and life of Francis in paintings, in statues, in engravings, and in mosaics. Thus Santa Maria degli Angeli was built on that very plain where Francis 'poor and humble entered rich into heaven.' Churches, too, were built at the place of his glorious burial as well as on the hills of Assisi, and to these pilgrims flocked from everywhere in small parties or in large groups, in order to recall for the benefit of their souls the memory of so great a saint and to admire these immortal monuments of art. Moreover, there arose to sing the praises of the Man of Assisi, as We have already seen a poet who has no equal, Dante Alighieri. He was followed by others both in Italy and elsewhere who brought glory to literature by exalting the grandeur of the saint." (Pope Pius XI, "Rite Expiatis", 1926)

"And even as at that period the blessed Father Dominic Guzman was occupied in defending the integrity of heaven-sent doctrine and in dissipating the perverse errors of heretics by the light of Christian wisdom, so was the grace granted to St. Francis, whom God was guiding to the execution of great works, of inciting Christians to virtue, and of bringing back to the imitation of Christ those men who had strayed both long and far. It was certainly no mere chance that brought to the ears of the youth these counsels of the gospel: 'Do not possess gold, nor silver, nor money in your purses; nor scrip for your journey, nor two coats, nor shoes, nor a staff.' And again, 'If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor...and come, follow Me.' Considering these words as directed personally to himself, he at once deprives himself of all, changes his clothing, adopts poverty as his associate and companion during the remainder of his life, and resolves to make those great maxims of virtue, which he had embraced in a lofty and sublime frame of mind, the fundamental rules of his Order." (Pope Leo XIII, "Auspicato Concessum", 1882)

"In truth, as Thomas of Celano writes, 'he was ever afire with divine love and longed to perform deeds of great heroism; walking with a strong heart in the way of the divine commandments, he eagerly desired to reach the highest perfection'; and St. Bonaventure testifies that 'he seemed like a burning coal alive with the fire of God's love.' (Legenda Maior, Chap. IX, No. 1) Wherefore there were those who 'seeing him raised so rapidly to a state of intoxication of divine love' burst into tears. (Legend of the Three Companions, No. 21) This love of God he poured out in love for his neighbor, and conquering himself loved with a special tenderness the poor and, among the poor, the most miserable of all, the lepers, whom as a youth he had so abhorred; he dedicated completely both himself and his disciples to their care and service. He also wished that a brotherly love similar to his own should reign among his disciples; because of this his wish, the Franciscan Brotherhood grew to be 'a noble edifice of charity, from the living stones of which, gathered from every part of the world, there was built a dwelling for the Holy Ghost.' (Thomas of Celano, Legenda I, No. 38 et seq)" (Pope Pius XI, "Rite Expiatis", 1926)

"Those twelve disciples who had been the first to place themselves under his government were like a small seed, which by the grace of God, and under the fostering care of the Sovereign Pontiff, quickly became an abundant harvest. After having holily instructed them in the school of Christ, he allotted to them for the preaching of the Gospel the various parts of Italy and of Europe; and some he sent even as far as Africa. There was no delay; poor, ignorant, unrefined, they mingled with the people: in the highways and in the public squares, with no preparation of place or pomp of rhetoric, they set themselves to exhort men to despise earthly things and to think of the time to come. It is marvelous to see the fruits produced by the enterprise of such workers, apparently so inadequate. Crowds gathered round them, eager to hear them: faults were bitterly bewept, injuries were forgotten, and sentiments of peace were reintroduced by the appeasing of discords. It is impossible to express the enthusiasm with which the multitude flocked to St. Francis. Wherever he went he was followed by an immense concourse; and in the largest cities as in the smallest towns, it was a common occurrence for men of every state of life to come and beg of him to be admitted to his rule." (Pope Leo XIII, "Auspicato Concessum", 1882)

"As soon as ever he had been unhorsed by the glorious humiliation of his vision of dependence on the divine love, he flung himself into fasting and vigil exactly as he had flung himself furiously into battle. He had wheeled his charger clean round, but there was no halt or check in the thundering impetuosity of his charge. There as nothing negative about it; it was not a regiment or a stoical simplicity of life. It was not self-denial merely in the sense of self-control. It was as positive as a passion; it had all the air of being as positive as a pleasure. He devoured fasting as a man devours food. He plunged after poverty as men have dug madly for gold. And it is precisely the positive and passionate quality of this part of his personality that is a challenge to the modern mind in the whole problem of the pursuit of pleasure. There undeniably is the historical fact; and there attached to it is another moral fact almost as undeniable. It is certain that he held on this heroic or unnatural course from the moment when he went forth in his hair-shirt into the winter woods to the moment when he desired even in his death agony to lie bare upon the bare ground, to prove that he had and that he was nothing. And we can say, with almost as deep a certainty, that the stars which passed above that gaunt and wasted corpse stark upon the rocky floor had for once, in all their shining cycles round the world of laboring humanity, looked down upon a happy man." (G. K. Chesterton)

"In the year of our Lord 1230, all the Friars of the Order being assembled in general chapter at Assisi, that body, consecrated to the Lord, was transferred to the church erected to his honor on the 21st of May. While the sacred treasure, signed with the signet of the Most High King, was being carried from one place to another, he, whose effigy was impressed upon it, was pleased that, by its health-giving ardor, the affections of many of the faithful should be drawn to follow after Christ; and most worthy was this of him who while in life was so dear to God, who by the grace of contemplation had been transported toke Enoch into Paradise, and by the zeal of his charity had been carried like Elias to heaven in a chariot of fire. Even his blessed bones, which having been transplanted from this barren earth, began to flourish among the heavenly flowers of the celestial garden, gave forth a sweet and marvelous odour of sanctity, from the place where they were found; and certain it is that as, when he was in life, this blessed man was illustrious and renowned by many marvelous tokens of virtue and sanctity, so, from the day of his death to the present hour, he has been glorified in divers parts of the world by manifold prodigies and miracles; so that, through the divine power, by his merits help is afforded to the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the lame, the dropsical, the paralytic, the possessed, the lepers, and to those who are tempest-tossed or languish in captivity. He relieves all infirmities, necessitates, and perils. Nay, by the marvelous resurrection of many from the dead is made known to the faithful the power of his merits, and the glorious might of the Most High, Who is marvelous in His saints, to Whom be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." (St. Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church)

"The Seraphic Father founded two Orders, one for men and the other for women, both made up of aspirants to evangelical perfection. He then began a visit to the cities of Italy announcing, either personally or through the first disciples who had come to him, the foundation of his two Orders, preaching penance to the people in few but fiery words, gathering by this ministry and by his words and example almost unbelievable fruits. In all the places where he went to perform the functions of his apostolic ministry the people and clergy came out in procession to meet Francis, and there was much ringing of bells, singing of popular songs, and waving of olive branches. Persons of every age, sex, and condition flocked to him and, by day or night, surrounded the house where he lived so that they might have a chance of seeing him when he went out, of touching him, speaking to him, or listening to his words. No one, even if he were grown gray in habits of vice and sin, could resist the preaching of the Saint. Very many people, even some of mature age, vied with one another in giving up all their earthly goods for love of the evangelical life. Entire cities of Italy, reborn to a new moral life, placed themselves under the direction of Francis. The number of his sons grew beyond reckoning. Such was the enthusiasm which filled all to follow in his footsteps that the Seraphic Patriarch himself was often obliged to dissuade many and turn aside from the proposal to leave the world both men and women who were willing and ready to give up their conjugal rights and the joys of domestic life." (Pope Pius XI, "Rite Expiatis", 1926)

"Italy, however, owes more to Francis than any other nation whatever; which, as it was the principal theatre of his virtues, so also most received his benefits; and, indeed, at a time when many were bent on multiplying the sufferings of mankind, he was always offering the right hand of help to the afflicted and the cast down; he, rich in the greatest poverty, never desisted from relieving others' wants, neglectful of his own. In his mouth his native tongue, new-born, sweetly uttered its infant cries; he expressed the power of charity and of poetry with it in his canticles composed for the common people, and which have proved not unworthy of the admiration of a learned posterity. We owe to the mind of Francis that a certain breath and inspiration nobler than human has stirred up the minds of our countrymen so that, in reproducing his deeds in painting, poetry and sculpture, emulation has stirred the industry of the greatest artists. Dante even found in Francis matter for his grand and most sweet verse...celebrated architects found in him the motive for their magnificent structures, whether at the tomb of the Poor Man himself, or at the Church of St. Mary of the Angels, the witness of so many and so great miracles. And to these temples men from all parts are wont to come in throngs in veneration for the father of Assisi of the poor, to whom, as he had utterly despoiled himself of all human things, so the gifts of the divine bounty largely and copiously flowed. Hence it is clear that from this one man a host of benefits has flowed into the Christian and civil republic." (Pope Leo XIII, "Auspicato Concessum", 1882)

"Some admired in him the character of the poet by which he so wonderfully expressed the sentiments of his soul, and his famous Canticle became the delight of learned men who recognized in it one of the first great poems of the early Italian language. Others were taken by his love of nature, for he not only seemed fascinated by the majesty of inanimate nature, by the splendor of the stars, by the beauty of his Umbrian mountains and valleys, but, like Adam before his fall in the Garden of Eden, Francis even spoke to the animals themselves. He appears to have been joined to them in a kind of brotherhood and they were obedient to his every wish. Others praised his love of country because in him Our Italy, which boasts the great honor of having given him birth, found a more fruitful source of blessings than any other country. Others, finally, honor him for that truly singular and Catholic love with which he embraced all men. All of this is quite admirable but it is the least that is to be praised in our Saint, and it all must be understood in a correct sense. If we stop at these aspects of his life and look upon them as the most important, or change their import so as to justify either our own morbid ideas or excuse our false opinions, or to uphold thereby some of our prejudices, it is certain that we would not possess a genuine picture of the real Francis. As a matter of fact, by his practice of all the virtues in a heroic manner, by the austerity of his life and his preaching of penance, by his manifold and restless activity for the reformation of society, the figure of Francis stands forth in all its completeness, proposed to us not so much for the admiration as for the imitation of Christian peoples." (Pope Pius XI, "Rite Expiatis", 1926)

"Dearest brothers and sisters, the invitation of the liturgy of today, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, brings us back in mind and heart to that night so many years ago when in this valley, through the initiative of St. Francis of Assisi, the mystery of Christmas was visibly represented for the first time on that occasion - according to the account of his first biographer - men and women of this region of yours gathered at Greccio, 'each one bringing, according to his ability, candles and torches to illuminate that night, in which shone the splendid Star in heaven that illuminated all days and times' (Celano, Vita prima 85). In this way there was fulfilled a Desire that Francis had cultivated in his heart for a long time: 'to represent the Infant born in Bethlehem and in some way to see with bodily eyes the discomforts in which he was found through the lack of the things necessary for a newborn child, as he was laid in a manger and lay on the hay between the ox and the ass' (ibid 84). We too are gathered here today. We meditate on the unheard-of mystery of a God made man for love of us. We too are here to recognize that that little Baby, unable to speak, is the uncreated Word of the Father, he who has the answer that can satisfy everyone of our existential questions. We too are here to adore the ineffable condescendence of the God three times holy, who did not abandon us to our misery but, stepping over the abyss of his transcendence, became one of us in order to walk by our side and point out to us by his example the way of salvation. This thought and profound lesson of Gospel spirituality comes forth from the very striking scene of the crib. They fill our soul with joy and make us understand why St. Francis had for Christmas more devotion than for any other feast of the year' (Leggenda perugina, 1107)." (Pope John Paul II)

Also See: St. Francis of Assisi: Biographical Information | St. Francis of Assisi: Misc. Facts

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