As the Christian whose life most closely calls to mind the example of Christ, Francis of Assisi is one of the few saints widely honored beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church. The son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi, he spent his youth in frivolous enjoyment. But a series of harsh experiences, including war, captivity, and sickness, turned his heart from worldly ambitions. A breakthrough in his life came when he kissed a leper whom he met on the road. Afterward he took to emptying his father’s warehouse to give to the poor. When his father publicly upbraided him, he stripped off his own fine clothes and vowed henceforth to recognize no other father but God in heaven.
While praying before a crucifix in a ruined chapel, Francis heard a voice commanding him to “repair” the Church. At first he took this quite literally, setting about rebuilding old church buildings. But in time he repaired the Church in a more profound way. Attracting followers, he launched a new order, the Friars Minor, who, in their strict faithfulness to the Gospel—seeking out the poor, the sick, the marginalized, embracing poverty and nonviolence—turned the values of their society upside down. In his life and in his relationship with the world, Francis represented the breakthrough of a new model of human and cosmic community. His last years were marked by terrible suffering, including the wounds of the cross on his hands and feet. He died on October 3, 1226. His feast day is October 4.
“Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death… Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.” —St. Francis of Assisi