St Francis of Assisi
Born in Assisi 1181.
Real name Giovanni (John) Bernardone but nicknamed Francis (Frenchy).
Father a wealthy cloth merchant.
As a young man was a bit of a playboy – formed a band and played an early version of the guitar.
Also known for his generosity – one day he was working at his father's stall in the market and gave all the takings to a beggar.
Dreamed of military glory – joined the army and spent a year as a POW. Later very sick.
Slowly became interested in religion.
One day was praying in the ruins of the church of St Damian when he had a vision of Christ saying, “Francis go and repair my house which is falling down.”
Took the words literally. Sold some of his father's goods to rebuild the walls of the church.
Father took him to magistrates and the bishop to get the money back – Francis stripped himself naked in the city square in front of the bishop and swore that he only had one father in heaven.
Francis spent some time working as a cook in a monastery and as a labourer – used all his money on repairing churches. Words of Christ in St Matthew came to him:
“Go and preach 'The Kingdom of heaven is near!' Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, heal the lepers, and drive out demons. You have received without paying so give without being paid. Do not carry any gold or silver in your pockets; do not carry a beggar's bag for the journey or an extra shirt or shoes or a stick.” (Mat 10:7-10)
From that moment onwards Francis was determined to imitate Christ and obey his commands in absolute poverty in Christ-like love and humble obedience.
My brother in law – a Methodist minister – put it very well a couple of days ago. To understand people like Francis we must understand that he was completely and absolutely in love with Jesus his saviour.
Francis gathered a group of like-minded young men around him and eventually received permission for the Pope to found a new monastic order – the Friars Minor: the lesser or humble brothers. The Friars were a different kind of monastic order to the traditional orders of monks and nuns (the cloistered orders) who lived in seclusion in monasteries and convents.
They did not (at first anywhere) own any land or buildings. They moved from place to place preaching repentance. They lived under strong vows of poverty. They were determined to live their lives in complete submission to God and to try and copy the life style of Jesus Christ.
Growth of the Franciscan order was very rapid – in less than a hundred years it had grown to over 1400 “houses” - groups of Friars spread throughout Europe.
One of the wonderful things about Francis and his early followers was their joy – a joy in life and God and in all of creation. When they went from place to place, they would sing – usually accompanied by Francis on his guitar. Francis always believed that serving God was a joy and never a chore. Enjoy the world, enjoy ones friends, enjoy God.