Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October 4 - Francis of Assisi, Friar, Disappointment to his Father, Inspiration to Many

Selling cloth was something he was very familiar with. Francis was there because he had been ordered to be there by his father to sell their wares and increase the family fortune. His brothers were there, as well, helping to provide for the family by convincing prospective customers of the quality of their cloth. Francis did as his father told him to but his mind wasn't totally on commerce. Rather, it was on the beggar who was sadly walking away from the stand. He had come and asked for alms and been turned away by Francis and his family. Francis had spoken his denial before he had even stopped to think about the person under the filthy rags. Now, he stood with his eyes fixed on the back of a person who was quickly embodying Francis' every flaw and failure: his street fights, his crude humor and mockery of the less fortunate, his disdaining of the poor when with his rich friends, his expensive and gaudy clothing, and all the other things that made Francis who he was. With every step, the reverberations of the beggar's foot upon the ground sounded a chorus of condemnation in Francis' heart. Having reflected upon his own life and that of the beggar, he was shocked to notice that he had lost track of the man. The man had slipped into the crowd and rounded a corner before Francis even realized what it was he wanted to do. He dropped the wares he was holding and bolted through the crowd. He struggled with the mass of people and finally found the beggar in an alley a few hundred yards away. With tears in his eyes he begged forgiveness from the startled and bemused beggar. He began handing over the possessions he had on him and begging the beggar to take them. The gifts he had received, the money he carried--all of these things he gave to the beggar.

When he returned to his father's stall, he saw his father shaking his head sadly in disappointment. "That's your son..." he muttered to his wife--Francis' mother. "It's your fault! You wanted to name him after John the Baptizer and you had him baptized on that day. You wanted him to serve God" he continued.

"He may yet do so," she replied. "That is--if he hasn't already begun" she added to herself with a smile.

"God forbid that Francesco should do that. He has so much opportunity. He has so much potential. God forbid he should waste it" he exclaimed. Francis came back and picked up the wares he had dropped and accepted the chiding and mockery of his brothers and friends. They mocked him for his compassion and soft heart. Perhaps, Francis regretted it. But, regardless, something had taken hold in him that would not let him go.

When he was older, he began serving the poor and the diseased in Assisi. He took care of them as they died knowing that those with power did not care--did not even know--about the least of their brothers dying alone in the streets. The mockery his friends dispensed did not let up and, perhaps, only intensified. They asked him if he planned to marry and he would say--with his mother's smile--that, yes, he did intend to marry a woman fairer than all. Francis' darling bride was the life of service and poverty that he was already living into.

One evening, while praying in a church, he had a vision of the crucified Christ speaking to him. Jesus said, "Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins." Francis was shocked and overwhelmed by the vision. Indubitably, he questioned his sanity. Perhaps to alleviate his anxiety he took the vision literally and sold his horse to buy some materials and began repairing the building that he had been praying in. For this, he was mocked yet again by his father and friends. As he was realizing that his vision was a calling from God to bring peace and healing within the Church, his father was beating him and demanding that he give up his life of service. Finally, he renounced the father to whom he had been a perpetual disappointment in favor of service to his Father who loved him and called him.

He sold his things. He became poor so that he might love the poor more fully. Francis devoted himself to that which many only speak about in theoretical and abstract terms. Whereas many had said, "Wouldn't it be nice if..." about poverty and sickness, Francis said "How can I best serve those whom God has called me to?" Francis--never ordained but always a minister--went on to found a monastic order and become an inspiration to countless Christians and non-Christians. As a man of peace and love, he changed the world he was a part of. He preached confidently, prayed fervently, and learned to love as he had been called to that day in the market when he dropped everything related to his father's business to be about his Father's business.

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