St. Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis is called the little poor man of Assisi. He was born in the year 1182 in the town of Assisi in Italy. His father's name was Bernadone. Bernadone was a very wealthy merchant of Assisi. Francis was a very good-looking boy. He was merry and soft-hearted. So he had many friends. All the noble men's sons were his companions.
Francis was brought up in luxury and gaiety. He spent a considerable portion of his wealth in extravagant pleasures. He used to drink with the young princes of the land.
One day Francis was joking and laughing with his friends. A beggar came along crying for alms. Francis, who was soft-hearted, gave whatever he had in his pocket to the beggar. His companions mocked at him for his charitable act. Dispassion dawned in his heart. The sight of the beggar set him thinking about the poverty and misery of mundane life. He gave much money to the poor. His father thought that Francis was wasting his money and rebuked him.
Sometime after this, Francis was laid up in bed for many months on account of some serious disease. He was about to die. But the Lord saved him as he had to carry out a definite mission in his life. The nature of Francis was entirely changed. Francis prayed to the Lord for light and guidance as to his future. He had a vision of Lord Jesus. He made a strong determination to renounce his old way of living to tread a life of purity and to dedicate his life to the service of humanity.
As soon as Francis got well, he informed his parents of his determination. They were disappointed. They became angry with Francis. Francis gave up his old ways and habits and set up to serve God. He distributed clothes, goods and money to the poor. His father was very much annoyed towards his son. He said, "Is this the gratitude you show to me ? I laboured hard and amassed wealth. You are lavishly wasting it on these miserable wretches".
Francis' friends mocked at him and teased him. His father turned him out of the house. Francis lived like a beggar. His old friends even pelted him with stones and mud. He bore everything with patience. He wore a coarse dress and ate simple food.
Francis lived in a cave in the mountains of Assisi and spent his time in prayer and meditation for two years. Some kind people gave him food, but very often he had to starve.
Francis called the body 'brother ass'. He kept this brother ass under perfect discipline and control. Sometimes he kept this brother ass without food and water and denied it some special food that it liked very much.
Francis was humble. He loved God's creatures. He loved birds and beasts. He loved the depressed and the outcastes. He treated the birds, the beasts and all beings as brothers and sisters.
Francis went from village to village preaching the love of God. He invited people to join him in his life of service if they were willing. Bernard, a rich man of Assisi, was very much attracted by the saintliness of Francis. He joined Francis. He was the first follower of Francis. He placed all his wealth at the altar of God. Eleven others also joined Francis. They distributed all their wealth to the poor. Francis and his followers went all over Italy preaching, teaching, healing and blessing wherever they went.
The gospel of kindness and love of Francis soon spread all over Europe and earned for him the name of St. Francis. People called him the little poor man of Assisi. He lived for ever in the hearts of all men.
St. Francis collected many followers and founded the Order of Mendicant Friars or Franciscans. The members of this Order have to take a vow of poverty, chastity, love and obedience.
St. Francis gave up his mortal coil in 1228.