Life of St. Francis of Assisi | 12


Chapter 12.

The efficacy of his preaching, and of his gift of healing.

Francis, the true servant and minister of Christ, in order that he might perform all his works with the greatest fidelity and perfection, exercised himself chiefly in those virtues which he knew, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, to be most pleasing to God.

Now it happened that he was once seized with great anguish of mind from a doubt as to what he ought to do, which, after spending many days in prayer, he laid before some of the brethren in whom he most confided:

“Which, my brethren,” he said, “do you account most praiseworthy, which do you advise me to do,—to give myself wholly to prayer, or to go about preaching the Gospel?

For I, being a poor sinful man, and unskilled in preaching, have received the gift of prayer, rather than of speech.

In prayer, again, is great gain and accumulation of graces; in preaching, the distribution of whatever gifts we have received from Heaven.

In prayer, is the purification of the interior affections, and union with the One True and Supreme God, together with an increase of all virtues.

In preaching, the feet of the spiritual man are defiled with dust; therewith comes distraction concerning many things, and great relaxation of discipline.

In prayer we speak with God and listen to Him, and, as if leading an angelic life, we converse with angels. But in preaching, we must condescend to men in many things; and living among them as men, we must think, see, speak, and hear as men.

On the other hand, this one thing would seem to outweigh all the rest before God, i.e.,

that the Only Begotten Son of God, who is the Supreme Wisdom, descended from the bosom of the Father for the salvation of souls,

that He might teach the world by His example, and speak the word of salvation to men whom He redeemed with the price of His Sacred Blood,

washing them therewith in the laver of baptism, and nourishing them therewith in the Chalice of Salvation, reserving to Himself nothing, but pouring forth all liberally for our salvation.

And therefore we ought to do according to the example of those things which we have seen in Him, as in a high mountain set forth before us, so that it seems to me more pleasing to God that I should lay aside my quiet, and go forth to labour.”

Now, for many days together he pondered over these things with the brethren, and yet was unable to perceive certainly which of these two things he should do, and which would be most acceptable to Christ.

For although he knew wonderful things by the spirit of prophesy, yet he was unable of himself clearly to resolve this question,

God in His wisdom thus providing that the merit of preaching should be more plainly manifested by a Divine revelation and the humility of the servant of Christ might be at the same time preserved.

It was ever his chief care to inquire in what way and by what means God might be most perfectly served according to His Divine good pleasure.

This was the sum of his philosophy, this his chief desire as long as he lived, to seek from the learned and the simple, the perfect and the imperfect, the little and the great, whatsoever might enable him to attain to the sublimest perfection of virtue.

Calling, therefore, two of the brethren, he sent them to Brother Sylvester, who once beheld a cross issuing from his mouth, and who now devoted himself to prayer in a mountain near Assisi, beseeching him that he would enquire the Divine will concerning this thing, and make it known to him from the Lord.

He asked the same thing of the holy virgin Clare, begging that she would cause some of the purest and simplest of her sisters to join with her in prayer, that so they might learn the will of the Lord.

The venerable priest and the virgin consecrated to God gave an answer in wonderful accordance, saying that it was revealed to them from on high to be the good pleasure of God that the servant of Christ should go forth to preach.

The two brethren returning and making known the will of God, as they had heard it, he immediately girded himself, and without any delay went forth on his way.

He hastened with such fervour to fulfil the Divine command, as if the hand of God upon him had endued him with strength from on High.

When he drew near to Bevagna, he came to a place where a great multitude of birds of different kinds were assembled together, which, when they saw the holy man, came swiftly to the place, and saluted him as if they had had the use of reason.

They all turned towards him and welcomed him; those which were on the trees bowed their heads, in an unaccustomed manner, and all looked earnestly at him, until he went to them and seriously admonished them to listen to the word of the Lord, saying:

“Oh, my brother birds, you are bound greatly to praise your Creator, who has clothed you with feathers, and given you wings wherewith to fly; who has given you the pure air for your dwelling-place, and governs and cares for you without any care of your own.”

While he spoke these and other such words to them, the birds rejoiced in a marvellous manner, swelling their throats, spreading their wings, opening their beaks, and looking at him with great attention.

And he, with marvellous fervour of spirit, passing through the midst of them, covered them with his tunic, neither did any one of them move from his place until the man of God had made the sign of the Cross and dismissed them with his blessing, when they all at once flew away.

And all these things were seen by his companions, who were waiting for him on the road.

When this pure and simple man returned to them, he began to accuse himself of negligence, because he had never before preached to the birds.

Afterwards, as he was preaching in the neighbouring places, he came to a city called Alviano, where the people were gathered together, and there he silenced the swallows, who made their nests in that place, because for the great noise they made he could hardly be heard.

Then the man of God said to them in the hearing of all:

“My sisters, the swallows, it is now time that I also should speak, for you have spoken more than enough. Listen to the word of God, and keep silence until the preaching is ended.”

Then, as if they were capable of understanding, the swallows kept silence, and uttered not a sound until the sermon was ended.

All who beheld this, being filled with wonder, glorified God. The fame of this miracle being spread far and wide, greatly increased the reverence and faith borne to the man of God.

In the city of Paris there was a certain scholar of very good dispositions, who, with some of his companions, was diligently pursuing his studies. Being one day greatly troubled by the vexatious garrulity of a swallow, he said to his companions:

“This must be one of the swallows which molested the holy man Francis while he was preaching, and would not desist until he had imposed silence upon them.”

Then turning to the swallow, he said confidently: “I command thee, in the name of Francis, the servant of God, to come to me, and I will quickly quiet thee.”

When the bird heard the name of Francis, as if it had been taught by the man of God, it was quiet at once, and came and placed itself in the scholar’s hands, who in great amazement set it at liberty, and was troubled no more by its clamour.

At another time, when the servant of God was preaching at Gaeta, on the sea shore, a multitude of people pressed upon him that they might touch him.

The servant of Christ, who held such popular applause in abhorrence, entered alone a little boat which was close to the shore.

And the boat, as if it had been a reasonable creature, was carried by an interior motion away from the shore, all who beheld it wondering, seeing that there was no one to row it.

Having been carried some distance into the deep sea it stopped, and remained immoveable, while the holy man preached to the multitude who were waiting on the shore.

Having heard the sermon and seen the miracle, the multitude received his blessing and retired, troubling him no more, and then the boat returned of itself to the land.

Who could have been so obstinate and hardened in mind as to despise the preaching of Francis, by whose marvellous power it came to pass that not only irrational creatures but inanimate substances obeyed his words, as if they had been endowed with a soul!

Certain it is that with Francis, the servant of God, whithersoever he went there was ever present that Spirit of the Lord, who had sent him forth;

and the power and wisdom of Christ were with him, making him to abound in words of true and wholesome doctrine, and glorifying him with mighty miracles.

For his word was as a burning fire, penetrating the inmost heart, and filling the minds of men with admiration, inasmuch as he sought after no ornaments of human invention, but showed forth only the Divine inspiration and doctrine.

Having to preach on a certain day in front of Pope and the Cardinals, at the suggestion of the Cardinal of Ostia he learned a sermon by heart, which he had very carefully prepared; when he was about to speak it for their edification he wholly forgot everything he had to say, so that he could not utter a word.

He related with true humility what had befallen him, and then, having invoked the aid of the Holy Spirit, he began at once to move the hearts of these great men to compunction with such fluency of powerful and efficacious words, as plainly showed that not he, but the Spirit of the Lord, was speaking.

And because he had first impressed upon his own mind by his works what he endeavoured to impress upon others by his words, fearing reproof from no man, he preached the truth with great confidence.

He was not accustomed to handle the sins of man delicately, but pierced them with the sword of the Spirit, nor did he spare their sinful lives, but rebuked, them sharply and boldly.

He spoke to great and small with equal constancy of mind, and with a like joyfulness of spirit, whether to many or to few; people of every age and sex came forth to see this man, newly given to the world by God, to look upon him and to listen to his words.

And so he went forth through various regions, boldly preaching the Gospel, the Lord working with him and confirming his word by signs following.

And in the power of His Name, Francis, the herald of the truth, cast forth devils, healed the sick, and what is more, by the efficacy of his word softened the most hardened hearts and brought them to penance, restoring at the same time the health of the body and the soul, as is shown by many of his works which we will notice, as a proof of what we have said.

In the city of Tuscanella he lodged with a certain soldier, who had devoutly besought him to do so. This soldier had an only son, whose limbs had been contracted from his birth.

At the father’s earnest request, the holy man raised him up with his hand, and thus, in the presence of all, restored him to health, so that all the members of his body were strengthened, and the child immediately began to walk, leaping and praising God.

In the city of Nami, at the desire of the Bishop, he made the sign of the cross upon a paralytic who had lost the use of his limbs, and restored him to perfect health.

In the diocese of Rieti, a boy, whose body had for four years been swollen to such a degree that he could not see his legs, was brought by his mother, with many tears, to the holy man, and was immediately cured by the touch of his sacred hands.

In the city of Orti there was a boy so dreadfully distorted that he had his head between his feet, and many of his bones were broken:

At the prayer of his parents the Blessed Francis signed him with the sign of the cross, and immediately he was able to extend his limbs, and was delivered from his infirmity.

A woman in the city of Gubbio had both her hands contracted and withered, so that she was unable to use them:

When the holy man had made the sign of the cross over her, in the name of the Lord, she recovered such perfect health that, like Simon’s mother-in-law, who was healed by our Lord, she arose and prepared food for the use of the holy man and the poor.

In the city of Bevagna he thrice anointed a blind maiden with his spittle, in the name of the Holy Trinity, and thus restored her sight.

A blind woman in the city of Nami recovered her sight when the holy man signed her with the sign of the cross.

In Bologna there was a boy, one of whose eyes was so darkened by a spot that he could see nothing, nor could any remedy effect his cure:

When the servant of God had made the sign of the cross over him from head to foot, he so perfectly recovered his sight that he soon after entered the Order of Friars Minor, and declared that he saw better with the eye which had been blind than with the other.

In the city of St. Emignano the servant of God was entertained by a devout man, whose wife was vexed by a devil:

After he had prayed, he commanded the spirit by virtue of holy obedience to depart, and by the Divine power so instantly cast him out, as plainly to manifest that the perversity of the demon cannot resist the power of holy obedience.

In the city of Castello a furious and malignant spirit, who had entered into a woman, having received an obedience from the holy man, departed in great wrath, leaving the woman whom he had possessed free both in body and mind.

One of the friars was possessed with so dreadful a sickness, that by many it was affirmed to be rather the effect of diabolical art and malice than of natural infirmity:

For he often threw himself at full length on the ground, and wallowed, foaming; sometimes all the members of his body were contracted, sometimes distended, sometimes turned and twisted;

now they would become rigid and hard, at other times his whole body would become stiff and distended, and he would rise with his feet upwards into the air, and fall down again in a horrible manner.

Seeing, therefore, this unhappy man thus miserably and hopelessly tormented, the servant of Christ, being full of compassion, sent him a mouthful of bread which he was accustomed to eat, which the sick man had no sooner tasted than he received such strength, that from that day forward he was never again troubled by his infirmity.

In the country of Arezzo a woman had been long labouring in childbirth, and was near to death, nor did any hope of life remain, save in the mercy of God.

It happened that the servant of God was then passing through those parts, and from a weakness of body being compelled to ride, the horse upon which he had ridden was brought into the town where the woman lay sick.

The men of the place, when they saw the horse upon which the holy man had ridden, took off the bridle and laid it upon the woman, and at its miraculous touch she was freed from all peril, and brought forth her child in safety.

A certain man of Pieve, full of piety and the fear of God, kept a cord by him which the Holy Father had worn:

A great multitude of men and women being attacked in the city by various diseases, he went from house to house where the sick lay, and dipping the cord in water, made the sick to drink thereof, by which means a great many were healed.

Many sick persons, also, having eaten pieces of bread which had been touched by the man of God, were by the operation of the Divine power speedily restored to health.

The herald of Christ being thus glorified by these and many other miracles, men listened to the things which he said in his preaching, as if an angel of the Lord were speaking to them.

And forasmuch as he excelled in the possession of all virtues—in the spirit of prophesy; in the power of miracles; in the gift of preaching, given him from heaven;

in the obedience rendered him by creatures without reason; in the mighty change of hearts at the hearing of his word; in the learning (beyond all human teaching to bestow) imparted to him by the Holy Ghost;

in the authority to preach committed to him by Divine revelation, by the Supreme Pontiff; in the rule wherein his manner of preaching was expressed, confirmed by the Vicar of Christ; finally, by the royal signet impressed upon his body —

by all these tenfold witnesses, the venerable office, authentic doctrine, and wonderful sanctity of Francis, the herald of Christ, are undoubtedly proved, and he is set forth as the true messenger of God, declaring the Gospel of Christ.