Today, October 4, is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis, the founder of the monastic order of the Franciscans, is one of the more well-known saints in the Christian tradition. He is remembered for his piety, his simple lifestyle, his devotion to the poor, and his love for the whole of God’s creation, including nature and animals. St. Francis is the patron saint of animals, merchants, and ecology, and for this reason, many churches have a blessing of the animals around this date in honor of St. Francis. (St. Brendan’s is holding our “Blessing of the Animals” service later this month, on October 29).
Image: “Saint Francis of Assisi and scenes of his life,” 1235, Bonaventura Berlinghieri
Sources vary about the specific details of St. Francis’s life, but here is a general overview of his history. St. Francis, named Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone and baptized Giovanni after John the Baptist, was born to a wealthy Italian merchant in 1181 and lived a life of ease and prosperity in his youth. Francis did not have an immediate conversion to a life of piety, rather his beliefs and views of the world evolved over several years. In 1203, following a year spent as a prisoner of war, Francis fell seriously ill and, during this time, experienced a change in values. Francis left his life of frivolity and pleasure for one more focused on prayer and charity though he continued to serve as a knight under the papal forces. Then, in 1205, the night before heading out to war, Francis had a dream that called him to return to Assisi and live a life of solitude and prayer. In 1208, after listening to the Gospel (Matthew 10:7-19) during mass, Francis cast off his cloak for a coarse woolen tunic and left the town for the countryside to live in poverty and preach penance, brotherly love, and peace.
By 1209 Francis had gathered a group of followers, who would later be called friars, and drew up a written rule based on readings of the Gospel to guide their way of life. This rule was approved by Pope Innocent III in 1210, which marked the official start of the order of the Franciscans. Francis and his friars settled in Portiuncula, where they lived simply, performed manual labor, and preached to the surrounding peasants. Francis sought to live his life in imitation of Christ, embracing poverty and preaching love and peace. Francis extended this message to all of God’s creation and saw God’s reflection in all things, whether Christian or non-Christian; rich or poor; human, animal, or natural. In 1223 Francis fell ill and was forced to withdraw from many of his daily activities. On October 3, 1226, St. Francis died and two short years later was canonized as a saint.
Image: “St Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata,” 17th century, Francisco de Zubarán
The Canticle of the Sun, which also called the Canticle of the Creatures, was composed by St. Francis of Assisi in the final year of his life and expresses his love and respect for all of God’s creation:
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honor, and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.
We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,
who sustains us
with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.
We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon,
for love of You bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by You Most High, they will be crowned.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.
We praise and bless You, Lord, and give You thanks,
and serve You in all humility.
Image: The oldest surviving depiction of Saint Francis, Abbey of Saint Scholastica, Subiaco, 1228-1229
You may also be familiar with the prayer attributed to St. Francis, also sometimes called the peace prayer. This well-known prayer (which happens to be one of my personal favorites) was not written by St. Francis (its first appearance was in a French magazine published in 1912) but is certainly in the tradition of St. Francis, promoting love and peace for all of creation:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
St. Francis sought to live his life in imitation of Christ, and in doing so he has inspired, and continues to inspire, countless people to live lives of piety, poverty, and peace. This feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, may the life and words of St. Francis inspire you to spread peace and love to all of God’s creation.
Grace and peace,
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A member of St. Brendan's since 2014, I enjoy being a part of this welcoming and giving community of faith. However, I am not a theologian, biblical scholar, or official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church. If you read anything on this blog that is inaccurate or contrary to the teachings of The Episcopal Church, please consider it my error and let me know! If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
McBrien, R. (2006) Saint Francis of Assisi, Friar. The Pocket Guide to the Saints. HarperSanFrancisco: 247-249.