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St. Francis of Assisi has been known throughout the world as a lover of nature. In fact, many artistic portrayals of the Saint show him in lavish natural settings, but it was not until 1979 that Pope John Paul II declared Francis the Patron Saint of the Environment. It wasn't until late into St. Francis' life that he was truly able to find a connection with god, who he referred to as the creator, in all aspects of life.
"Long before the environment became an issue, Francis saw human beings abusing nature.
In what could be the first "ecological statement" outside the Bible, Francis said this: "These creatures minister to our needs every day; without them we could not live and through them the human race greatly offends the Creator every time we fail to appreciate so great a blessing." - Legend of Perugia 43" (http://www.franciscans.org.au/spirituality/)
St. Francis wasn't always as much of a hippie as this passage makes it seem, and his father discouraged the life that Francis Lived. Francis was born in 1181 to a wealthy family. His father was a clothes merchant and changed his sons name from Giovanni to Francesco at the time of his baptism. Legend has it that Francis was born in a stable, but that may have been fabricated in an effort to make his life further resemble Christ's. Growing up, Francis was not the most studious of children.
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At the age of twenty, Francis, along with his fellow townsmen, went off to fight their rival town of Perugia in one of their frequent petty skirmishes. It was then that he was taken captive and held prisoner for nearly a year. While held captive he came down with a low fever which made him reevaluate his live. He realized he no longer lived for his delight in fine clothes and lavish lifestyle, his thoughts instead focused on god, the eternal. But, when his health started to come back to him, his thoughts of god dwindled and turned to embracing a military career. He found an army to join up with, and the night before supposed to leave with them, he had a "strange" dream. In this dream "' He saw a vast hall hung with armor all marked with the Cross." "These", said a voice, "are for you and your soldiers."'
"I know I shall be a great prince", exclaimed Francis exultingly, as he started for Apulia. But a second illness arrested his course at Spoleto. There, we are told, Francis had another dream in which the same voice bade him turn back to Assisi. He did so at once. This was in 1205. (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06221a.htm)
He believed this voice to be the voice of god, and at that moment his life took a turn to the spiritual side, and from now on would be filled with prophetic events. One day, as he was crossing the Umbrian Plain to Assisi, he came across a Leper, and rather than fleeing from him, as most people did, he embraced him. He embraced him amidst the mockery of his friends, and to his father's disappointment. Francis then traveled to the countryside of Assisi to meditate, occasionally coming out of seclusion to pray at the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damiens. It was here that he again heard the voice, this time sending him a message to, "Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin." (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06221a.htm) This message he took literally and assumed that the voice was that of Jesus Christ, and that he was referring to the chapel of St. Damiens. Francis then ran to his fathers shop, took and sold many of the fabrics and his horse at the marketplace at Foligno and was prepared to give all the money to the priest at St. Damiens, but his father found out. Enraged, Peter Bernardone searched for his son, who spent and entire month hiding in a cave not far from St. Damiens.
When Francis emerged from hiding his father beat him and argued with the city council to forgo his son from any inheritance, to which Francis had no objections.
"[Francis] declared, however, that since he had entered the service of God he was no longer under civil jurisdiction. Having therefore been taken before the bishop, Francis stripped himself of the very clothes he wore, and gave them to his father, saying: "Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only 'Our Father who art in Heaven.'" Then and there, as Dante sings, were solemnized Francis's nuptials with his beloved spouse, the Lady Poverty, under which name, in the mystical language afterwards so familiar to him, he comprehended the total surrender of all worldly goods, honors, and privileges." (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06221a.htm)
Francis then went back to Assisi, to the Chapel of St. Damiens and since he no longer had any money to repair the church with, he went around town, begging for stones with which he could later shape, and use in repairing the old church. He refused to live at the expense of others, so he moved in with the Priest of St. Damiens, and got his meals not by begging for money, but by scrounging and by working as a day laborer, only to be paid in groceries. He later gathered followers, and in 1210, "The Pope authorized the forming of the Order of Friars Minor, commonly called the Franciscans. ("Friar" means "brother," as in "fraternity", and "minor" means "lesser" or "younger." I take the meaning to be that a Franciscan, meeting another Christian, is to think, "I am your brother in Christ, and your younger brother at that, bound to defer to you and to give you precedence over myself." (http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/JEK/10/04.html) All the brothers of this order took a vow of poverty, chastity, love, and obedience.
They lived by the words of Christ, when he sent his disciples out to preach. "Preach as you go, saying, "The kingdom of Heaven is at hand." ... You have received the Gospel without payment, give it to others as freely. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, no spare garment, nor sandals, nor staff." (Matthew 10:7-10)
Francis only took what he needed, he was forever in touch with nature, and saw gods presence in all things around him. There are stories that have him removing worms from his path, so as not to step on them. He also saw god in fire. Towards the end of his life, he began to lose his vision. Doctors of the time suggested bringing a red hot poker to his forehead. "As the poker was being brought from the fire to be applied to his frail body, he prayed, "My Brother Fire, that surpasses all other things in beauty, the Most High created you strong and beautiful and useful. Be kind to me in this hour; be courteous." (http://www.franciscans.org.au/spirituality/) Francis saw everything around him in the eyes of faith, and since god was the creator, he saw everything, whether living or inanimate, as one of god's creatures.
Another story of Francis' love for fire, or really, for all of god's creations, occurred while sitting too close to a fire and his garments caught aflame. He refused to let the fire be extinguished, saying only, "Dearest brother, do not hurt Brother Fire." (Habit) Today, he would be locked up for acting in such a way, but back then his extreme behavior simply reflected his immeasurable love for creation, and for the creator.
St. Francis was very spiritual, he related everything to the gospels, which, in the 1200's, was very difficult seeing as they were difficult to acquire and recitations was cautioned due to fears of misinterpretation, and because of this, he feared the study of theology. He believed it would cause people to stray from the simplicity of faith and devotion. One of the easiest ways, he felt, to stray from this, was by the acquisition of wealth. Any sort of wealth, whether money or property, would divert one from completely fulfilling the gospels they lived by, this was why poverty was so important to the Franciscan order. Many of his followers believed that Francis took this to an extreme, and after his death, they split into two orders: Those who stuck by the original rules as having no wealth, either singularly or jointly, and an order of those who would jointly share property.
Towards the end of Francis' life, he meditated in a cave atop Mt, La Verna. He meditated for three consecutive weeks, he wanted to share Christ's sufferings, and through his meditation and his prayer, he received the stigmata, the marks resembling those of Christ when he was nailed to the cross.
Francis, with the help of the Franciscan order, was also a missionary. He preached his messages throughout the country, and surrounding countries. He spread his message to France, England, Germany, Spain, and even to Syria, where he personally went to bring his message of Christ to the Muslims, and where he even addressed their sultan. When he preached, he preached from the heart. He preached the way that he lived. He gave up everything for a life of servitude to god.
Nearly a decade before St. Francis received the stigmata, he went visit Count Orlando (also known as Roland) at his palace at the foothills of Mt. La Verna. Orlando had once before heard Francis' message, "[Orlando] was so taken by Francis' words that he sought out the saint for advice on how best to lead a life pleasing to God." (http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/SaintOfDay/default.asp?id=1415) Francis warned Orlando of the dangers in living a comfortable wealthy life, much like the one he lived in his past. In response to his message, Orlando shared his wealth, built a church and a convent at the base of Mt. La Verna, as well as constantly giving to charity. His message was simple, Francesco wrote letters to rulers of peoples, "warning them to pause and reflect, because the day of death is approaching. Those who are wiser and more powerful in this world will have greater punishments in the next. He urged them to remember God and follow the commandments." (http://www.san.beck.org/GPJ9-Francis%2CBonaventure.html) That was Francis' message. Francis wanted everyone to be a good person. To think of their fellow man, and to give what they could to help those around them. He found beauty in everything, and lived to help the sick.
"Mirror of Perfection," St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies: English Omniobus od the sources for the Life of St. Francis, edited by Marion A. Habig, 3rd Edition (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1973), pp1255
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