October 4: Francis of Assisi, Friar, 1226

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Meditierender HI. Franziskus mit Totenshadel by Francisco de Zurbaran, 1658 at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich

About this commemoration

Francis, the son of a prosperous merchant of Assisi, was born in 1182. His early youth was spent in harmless revelry and fruitless attempts to win military glory.

Various encounters with beggars and lepers pricked the young man’s conscience, and he decided to embrace a life devoted to Lady Poverty. Despite his father’s intense opposition, Francis totally renounced all material values, and devoted himself to serve the poor. In 1210 Pope Innocent III confirmed the simple Rule for the Order of Friars Minor, a name Francis chose to emphasize his desire to be numbered among the “least” of God’s servants.

The order grew rapidly all over Europe. But by 1221 Francis had lost control of it, since his ideal of strict and absolute poverty, both for the individual friars and for the order as a whole, was found to be too difficult to maintain. His last years were spent in much suffering of body and spirit, but his unconquerable joy never failed.

Not long before his death, during a retreat on Mount La Verna, Francis received, on September 14, Holy Cross Day, the marks of the Lord’s wounds, the stigmata, in his own hands and feet and side. Pope Gregory IX, a former patron of the Franciscans, canonized Francis in 1228, and began the erection of the great basilica in Assisi where Francis is buried.

Of all the saints, Francis is the most popular and admired, but probably the least imitated; few have attained to his total identification with the poverty and suffering of Christ. Francis left few writings; but, of these, his spirit of joyous faith comes through most truly in the “Canticle of the Sun,” which he composed at Clare’s convent of St. Damian’s. The Hymnal version begins:

Most High, omnipotent, good Lord,

To thee be ceaseless praise outpoured,

And blessing without measure.

Let creatures all give thanks to thee

And serve in great humility


I  Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant unto thy people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of thee delight in thy whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II  Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm 148:7-14

Lessons:  Jeremiah 22:13–16, Galatians 6:14–18, and Matthew 11:25–30

Preface of a Saint (3)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

Also of interest

Link to Society of St. Francis in The Episcopal Church


And just for fun . . .

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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16 thoughts on “October 4: Francis of Assisi, Friar, 1226

  1. New Hebrew reading: I don’t think that this fits very well at all. How about considering the Creation Narrative, or Noah and the Ark?

    Bio: He needs a ‘why is he important statement’ and the day and year of his death needs to be included.

  2. The stigmata is the stuff of legend. Instead of “Francis received…” it should say “Francis is said to have received…”

  3. I agree with Fred Fenton’s point. I’d also revise ‘devoted to Lady Poverty’ a bit–at least change it to ‘devoted to what he conceived of as “Lady” poverty’. It might be better to leave it out altogether, since there can’t be many people today who would agree that poverty is anything but a blight to be remedied if possible.

  4. […] October 4: Francis of Assisi, Friar, 1226 « Standing Commission on … Francis left few writings; but, of these, his spirit of joyous faith comes through most truly in the “Canticle of the Sun,” which he composed at Clare's convent of St Damian's. The Hymnal version begins: . […]

  5. For a saint as beloved as Francis of Assisi and one for whom it is often difficult to sort out fact from legend, the biography as now printed is sadly dull. I assume the writer wanted to keep to the bare boned facts of Francis’ life. Even so, the biography seems to miss much that was important in Francis’ life.

    Francis was not baptized Francis but Giovanni Bernardone. The name Francesco seems to have picked up in childhood. His father was a cloth merchant. Instead of “His early youth was spent in harmless revelry and fruitless attempts to win military glory,” it might be said that Francis had a some education. He showed no aptitude in learning the cloth merchant trade, instead partying and carousing with his friends. Francis apparently did join a military expedition against the neighboring town of Perugia in 1201during which he was imprisoned for a year and developed a febrile illness (malaria?). It seems to have been this illness which prompted Francis to consider his life more seriously.

    After his release, Francis was uncertain of his work in life though he helped beggars and nursed the ill at lazar houses. It is during this time when he said he had a vision of a voice calling him to restore the Church of God. He thought this referred to a church named St. Damian, near Assisi, which was falling into ruin. Francis sold his horse and some cloth he had from his father and gave the money to the priest at St. Damian. The priest was shrewd enough to know that there could well be repercussions from the Francis’ wealthy and influential father if he accepted the money. Francis’ father tried to bring his son to his senses. Finally before the local Bishop, Francis renounced his inheritance from his father, even returning the clothes which he, Francis, was wearing to his father. Francis became a homeless wanderer though he did manual labor such as restoring the chapel of St. Mary of the Angels. After hearing a sermon on Matthew 10:9, he decided to live in what he thought of as apostolic poverty. He would wear a rough cloak but he would wear no shoes and carried no staff. While preaching about repentance, Francis was joined by others. Their work was with the sick and the poor and their own lives were ascetic. They did receive approval from Pope Innocent about 1209 and formed the Order of the Friars Minor.

    From about 1211, other houses of monks were formed. From this period, Francis seem to have traveled to Egypt and Palestine. It was the success of the simple rules of the order, which resulted in discord within the order. So apparently by about 1223, the order was transformed under a cardinal and a pope (Honorius III) into a regular order with a regularized life, supervised by Rome via a cardinal protector. The control and direction of the order was taken from Francis, even as the order expanded within Europe and into England.. The freedom and the wandering and the preaching of the early years was lost. Francis seems to have withdrawn from the work of the order during the last years of his life, becoming a hermit, praying, fasting and singing praises to God. Francis died 3 October 1226 at age 44. He was canonized by the Roman Catholic church two years later.

    I am not sure that Lady Poverty should be stripped from the biography. The concept of “Lady Poverty” should be explained. Francis desired no possessions that he could call his own. Francis saw owning things as a source of conflict and strife. Possessions hindered him from fully loving God and his neighbor. Therefore he wished no earthy possessions.

  6. It would be hard to find a way in which Francis’ lfe and ministry did not draw us to Christ. These is more to be said than a book can say.

    I am not totally sold on the Jeremiah reading, but it is satisfactory.

  7. October 4: Francis of Assisi, Friar, 1226
    I agree with Michael and others about the OT lesson. It seems so far off, I wondered if it might be a mistaken citation. Creation and Noah were suggested as alternatives, relating to animals and creation. One relating to poverty would be Deut 15:6-8, (9),10-11. Then, noting there is a story about Francis helping a worm by removing it from a roadway, Isaiah 41:12-20 mentions both poverty and has an “animal” reference in the image (v. 14) of YHWH delivering Israel from enemies (as Francis allegedly did for the worm!), “Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you insect Israel! I will help you, says the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”
    My sense is that the extant “Lives” of Francis quickly went through an official stage of church editing (censoring or filtering). They therefore leave us knowing a lot about how the powers that be wanted him received and remembered, but with sources that now leave us, as it were, with a “Quest for the Historical Francis.” I take the traditions as pointing to a mystic with an intensely deep feeling for, and high sense of, God’s creation (animals, heavenly bodies, natural phenomena, e.g., “Cantical of the Sun”), and probably being more out of step with the institutional ways of the church than is generally acknowledged, plus being more of an idiosyncratic individualist than a charismatic social or religious reformer. I can easily believe the stigmata could occur in a person with a strongly mystical inclination.
    I liked the commemoration, and I thank those who prepared it. The only gap I sense in it is that after learning in one sentence that he renounced his wealth to embrace poverty, the very next sentence tells us the Pope confirmed the Rule for the Order; without so much as a preliminary hint of an Order coming into existence, never mind mentioning a purpose for it. It just feels like a simple logical step has been skipped here, one easily remedied.
    Finally, there’s a minor typo on “seem” (it should be “seems”) in: “Francis seem to have traveled to Egypt….”

  8. I need to apologize to Suzanne (and everyone) — I mistook the “Egypt” sentence for being part of the HWHM write-up when it was part of the comments. That wasn’t me being nit-picky, it was me trying to be alert but falling on my face instead. Ouch!

    • I wish I had an editor who could catch all my typos and inadvertant grammatical errors before I posted a word. But I am not so fortunate.

      My comment was basically that the biography as now written seems so flat and disjointed. As the guidlines for HWHM are written, the biographies are supposed to stick to historical facts and leave out fictions. But the result is the biography which seems to present some of the sadness and disappointments of the life of St. Francis but fails to bring the richness of joy and song. The addition of one verse of the canticle seems almost as afterthought.

      I assume that the legends associated with St. Francis such as the wolf of Gubbio, and sermon to the birds, even the stigmata are not to be taken literally. Get it is often in these legends that one comes to understand the love of God for the whole of creation. The dominion of Man over the creation is not to be a wasteful tyranny but a loving stewardship.

      Francesco’s utter rejection of material possessions (which seems to be well documented and not in the realm of legend) would not necessarily result in Francesco’s care for the whole of God’s creation beyond the sick and poor humanity. So how does one present this in the biography?

      As the biography is now written, it does not even say anything about Francesco’s vision of “Go and repair My House which, as you can see, is falling into ruin,” which he is said to have heard from the San Damiano crucifix.

      The biography as now written hints at the sadness over the formation of the Friars MInor. The freedom of the early years was lost to the need to manage the order and regularize its practices to conform to the traditions of the Roman Catholic church.

      The biography needs to bring out more of the joy and song of Francis life and his care for and respect of the whole of God’s creation.

  9. I would add that when reference are made to the Hymnal 1982 that we give the hymn number as reference. As there are three citations of hymns by (or inspired by) Francis in the Hymnal 1982 they should be referenced in the bio.

  10. The subheading is inadequate, and continues the somewhat clericalist approach, that the most important item to show is a person’s position relation to the church. Maybe “Friar and Servant of the Poor”.

    In line 1 of the third paragraph, after “death”, add “on October 3, 1226”. This raises the question as to why we don’t commemorate him on that day. If we did, that would mean sharing the date, but more significantly, I recognize that his October 4 Feast Day is widely recognized, notably by the RC Church.

    I suggest a small change in lines 4 & 5 of the 5th paragraph, to indicate the link between Clare and Francis. After “composed”, substitute “at St. Damian’s, the convent founded by his disciple, Clare, whom we honor on August, 11.” for “at Clare’s convent of St. Damian’s.”

    There is no mention of his love for animals, but in view of the popularity of “blessing of the animals”, I suggest something like this , perhaps after “Christ” in line 5 of the third paragraph:.
    ‘His widely admired love of animals has resulted in his being considered the “Patron Saint of Animals”, often inspiring “Blessing of the Animals” on the Sunday nearest his Feast Day.’

  11. […] “Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (from Holy Women, Holy Men.) […]

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