Life of St. Francis of Assisi | 2


Chapter 2.

Perfect conversion of St. Francis to God— he rebuilds three churches.

Throughout all the time of which we have hitherto spoken, this great servant of God had neither master nor teacher to guide or instruct him,

except only Christ our Lord, who, in addition to the gifts already bestowed upon him, was pleased now to visit him with the sweet consolations of His divine grace.

For having gone one day into the fields, the better to contemplate and meditate upon heavenly things, he came to the church of St. Damian, which, from its great antiquity, was fast falling into decay, and, by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, he went in thither to pray.

As he lay prostrate before a crucifix, he was filled with great spiritual consolation, and gazing with tearful eyes upon the holy cross of the Lord, he heard with his bodily ears a voice from the crucifix, which said thrice to him:

“Francis, go and build up my house, which, as thou seest, is falling into ruin.”

Then Francis, trembling, and full of fear, being in the church alone, wondered at the sound of that marvellous voice, and as his heart received the meaning and power of the divine words, he fell into a great ecstasy.

When he had recovered his senses, and came to himself, he prepared to obey, and set himself at once to fulfil the command which he had received to repair the material church,

although the principal intention of these words referred to that Church which Christ has purchased and built up with His precious blood, as the Holy Spirit afterwards revealed to him, and as he afterwards made known to the friars.

He arose, therefore, and fortifying himself with the sign of the cross, he took out of his house a number of pieces of cloth, with which he went in all haste to the city of Foligno, where he sold all the merchandize which he had brought with him, and the horse also which had carried it,

and so the happy merchant returned to Assisi, and reverently entering the church which had been committed to his care, he found there a poor priest,

to whom, with due reverence, he offered all his goods for the repair of that church, and for the necessities and use of the poor, humbly beseeching him to allow him to dwell with him there for a while.

The priest was well content that he should remain there, but for fear of his father and mother he refused the proffered money.

Francis, however, who cared not for anything that might befall him, threw down all the money on the ledge of a window, as if it had been so much dust, and so left it in contempt

Now when the servant of God had dwelt some days with this priest, his father coming to hear of it, hastened in great anger to the church.

Francis being yet a novice in the service of Christ, hearing the loud threats of his persecutors, and expecting their approach, resolved to give place to wrath,

and hid himself for some days in a very secret place, beseeching the Lord continually, with many tears, to deliver his soul from the hands of those who persecuted him, that so he might accomplish the pious design with which He had inspired him.

Then, being filled with exceeding joy, he began to reproach himself with his fearfulness and faintness of heart, and leaving his retreat, and casting away all fear, he made his way to Assisi,

where, when the citizens saw him, pale and meagre in countenance, and changed in mind and character, many of them judged that he was out of his senses, and began to throw stones and mud at him, and to cry after him as a madman.

But the good servant of God, unmoved by all these insults, went on his way as if he heard them not.

These cries soon reached the ears of his father, who ran to the spot, not to deliver him, but rather to oppress him more cruelly; for, seizing him without mercy, he dragged him to his house, reproaching and tormenting him with words, blows, and bonds.

But he who had now become more prompt and valiant in the service of his Lord, called to mind those words of the Gospel: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for justice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Not long afterwards his father was compelled by the affairs of his merchandize to leave Assisi, when his mother, disapproving her husband’s treatment of Francis, and seeing that there was no hope of shaking the invincible constancy of her son, freed him from his bonds, and gave him liberty to go whithersoever he would.

And so, returning thanks to Almighty God, he returned to St. Damian’s.

When his father came home and found that he was gone, he, severely reproved his wife, and went in great anger to seek him, being minded, if he could not bring him home, to drive him altogether out of the country.

But Francis, in the strength of God, went forth of his own accord to meet his furious father, declaring that he feared neither his blows nor his chains, and protesting that he was ready to bear every suffering which might await him for the name of Christ.

The father seeing that his son could not be moved from his purpose, turned his thoughts next to the recovery of his money.

Having found this at last lying, as has been said, on a window-sill, his anger was in some measure appeased by the recovery of the money, which satisfied the thirst of his avarice.

And now his father according to the flesh, having despoiled him of his money, brought this son (no longer his, but the child of Divine grace) before the Bishop of Assisi,

to compel him to renounce in his hands all his inheritance, and whatsoever he had received from him, which this true lover of poverty was most ready and willing to do.

As soon, therefore, as he came into the Bishop's presence, without a moment's delay, neither waiting for his father's demand nor uttering a word himself he laid aside all his clothes, and gave them back to his father.

Then it was seen, that under his fair and costly garments the holy man wore a hard and rough hair-shirt. With marvellous fervour he then turned to his father, and spoke thus to him in the presence of all:

“Until this hour I have called thee my father on earth; from henceforth, I may say confidently, my Father who art in Heaven, in whose hands I have laid up all my treasure, all my trust, and all my hope.”

When the Bishop, who was a man of great virtue and piety, heard this, he marvelled at the exceeding fervour of the holy man of God,

and rising from his seat he embraced him with many tears, covering him with his mantle, and he commanded his servants to bring some garment wherewith to clothe him.

There was brought to him a poor mantle, belonging to a certain labourer of the Bishop, which Francis received with exceeding joy

and with a piece of chalk, which he found lying there, he made the sign of the cross upon it, as a garment well befitting a poor half-naked man, crucified to the world.

And thus did this most faithful servant of the great King of Heaven and Earth strip himself of all things, that so he might follow the Lord, whom he so truly loved, who died naked on the cross for him;

and thus did he arm himself with the sign of the cross, committing his soul to that sacred wood of our salvation, to escape thereby from the fearful shipwreck of the world.

From that day forth this great despiser of the world, being freed from all the bonds of worldly cupidity, went forth from the city to a secret and solitary place, where, alone and in silence, he waited the revelation of the Divine will.

Now it came to pass, that as Francis, the servant of God, was singing the praises of the Lord with great joy and gladness, certain robbers fell upon him and fiercely questioned him, asking him who he was:

And when he answered them in truly prophetic words: “I am the herald of the great King of Heaven,” the robbers fell upon him with great fury,

and having loaded him with blows, they cast him into a ditch filled with snow, saying: “Lie there, thou herald of nothing, who callest thyself the herald of God!”

When they had departed, Francis arose, and, full of exceeding joy, went through the forest, singing with a loud voice the praises of his Creator;

and having come to a neighbouring monastery, he there asked an alms as a poor man, and as such he received it, for it was given to him as to a vile and unknown person.

From thence he came to Gubbio, where he was recognized by one of his own friends, who received him into his house, and gave him a poor old tunic, with which he clothed himself as in deed and in truth the poor servant of God.

Afterwards, in his deep love of humility, he went among the lepers and remained with them, serving them diligently for the love of God:

He washed their feet, bound up their wounds, pressing out the corrupt matter, and then washing and cleansing them.

And having done this he kissed their wounds with great and marvellous devotion, as one who in brief space was to become an evangelical physician, and true healer of souls.

Nay, such power was bestowed upon him by the Lord, that he obtained a wonderful gift to cure, not corporal only, but spiritual diseases. And amongst many such marvellous deeds we will relate one, the fame whereof was spread throughout all that country:

There was a certain man at Spoleto who was tormented and consumed by a malignant disease, which had eaten away his mouth and jaw, nor could any remedy be found for it.

It so befell that he went to Rome to beseech the Prince of the Apostles and many other Saints by their merits to obtain for him favour from God.

On his return from this pilgrimage, he happened to meet with the man of God:

And desiring, for the great devotion which he bore him, to kiss his feet, the humble Francis, who could not suffer it, kissed his diseased and loathsome mouth and the disease utterly disappeared, and the sick man recovered his health.

Assuredly I know not, which of these two things is most worthy of admiration, the profound humility of that kiss, or the marvellous power which wrought so stupendous a miracle.

Francis, being thus established in the humility of Christ, called to mind the obedience laid upon him by the voice from the crucifix, to rebuild the church of St. Damian;

and being perfect in his obedience, he returned to Assisi, that, if in no other way, he might by begging obtain means to fulfil the Divine command.

And therefore despising for the love of the poor and crucified Jesus the shame of going to beg of those amongst whom he had once lived in honour and wealth, he, moreover, laid heavy burdens upon his body, already wasted with fasting, carrying great stones on his own shoulders for the building of the church.

When he had rebuilt the aforesaid church by the help of the Lord and the devotion of his fellow- citizens, who largely assisted him—

lest, having finished this labour, he should begin to grow slothful, he set to work to repair the Church of St. Peter, a little farther from the city, for the special devotion which, in the sincere purity of his faith, he bore to the Prince of the Apostles.

When St. Peter’s Church was finished, he came to a place called Portiuncula,

where was a church built in ancient times to the honour of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, and under her invocation, but which had been long deserted, and which, for want of care, was now falling into decay.

The holy man, beholding it thus desolate, resolved, out of his fervent devotion to the Queen of the world, to remain there, in order to repair and restore it.

And while he abode there, he received frequent angelical visitations in accordance with the name of the church, which was St. Mary of the Angels.

Here, therefore, he resolved to remain, because of his reverence to the angels, and, above all, because of the exceeding love which he bore to the Mother of Christ.

This place was loved by the holy man above all places in the world, for here, in great humility, he began his spiritual life; here he grew in virtue;

here he attained his happy and perfect end; and this, at the hour of his death, he commended to his brethren as a spot most dear to the Blessed Virgin.

It was at this place that a certain very devout friar beheld a vision well worthy to be related:

he saw a multitude of men, who were all blind, kneeling round this churchy with their faces and hands raised to heaven, and with many tears, crying to God to have mercy on them.

And behold there appeared a great glory in heaven shining over them all, which gave light and salvation to each.

This is the place in which, by Divine -revelation, St. Francis instituted the Order of the Friars Minor:

For, by the direction of Divine Providence, by which the servant of Christ was guided in all things, he built three material churches before he began to preach the Gospel,

and instituted that Order, that thus not only he might ascend from things sensible to things intellectual, from the lesser to the greater, but also that the visible work might mysteriously prefigure that which was hereafter to be brought to pass.

For after the similitude of the three churches repaired by the holy man, according to the rule and doctrine revealed to him, so was the Church of Christ restored by the victories of three kinds of spiritual warriors, as we see fulfilled at this day.