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Saint Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi, Charismatic Penitent
Saint Francis was born in 1182 in Assisi, Italy, the son of a prosperous merchant. Conditions in Italy were not dissimilar to the conditions of our day.
The powerless minores no longer tolerated the domination of the majores; prolonged drought caused widespread famine; and barbarous public torture was but a different form of the violence and terrorism of today.
Francis of Assisi was not born a saint. The son of a wealthy merchant, he had time and money to host lavish banquets for young nobles who proclaimed him "King of Feasts." Parties and selling cloth left Francis little time for God.
A handsome, charming and educated young man, he spent his early life leading young nobles in parties. He dreamed of knighthood and longed for the adventurous life of chivalry. In pursuit of that dream, he joined in the war between Assisi and Perugia at the age of 20.
In a war between Assisi and Perugia, Francis fought with youthful enthusiasm. He was wounded and taken prisoner. Spending thenext year in a dungeon, he contracted malaria. Ransomed by his father, a more reflective Francis returned to Assisi. Sickness overtook him and in that languishing experience he heard the first stirrings of a vocation to peace and justice.
The military victories of Count Walter of Brienne revived Francis' desire for knighthood. Under Brienne's command, he hoped to win his favor and become a knight. On his way to join Brienne, Francis stopped in Spoleto and heard the shocking news of his death. Overcome by depression, his malaria returned.
One night a mysterious voice asked him, "Who do you think can best reward you, the Master or the servant?" FrancisAnswered, "The Master." The voice continued, "Why do you leave the Master for the servant?" Francis realized the servant was Count Walter. He left Spoleto convinced God had spoken to him.
During the next two years Francis sensed an inner force that was preparing him for another change. The sight of lepers caused revulsion in the sensitive soul of Francis. One day while riding his horse, he cam upon a leper. His first impulse was to throw him a coin and spur his horse on. Instead Francis dismounted and embraced the leper. On his death bed he recalled the encounter as the crowning moment of his conversion: "What seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body."
Later, in a dramatic moment of prayer in the abandoned Church of San Damiano, he heard a voice coming from the crucifix which challenged him to rebuild the church. At first he thought it meant that he should rebuild San Damiano. Gradually, Francis realized that God meant that he should "rebuild" the Church at large. From that moment he learned that living a Christian life would place him in opposition to the values of his society and set him apart from family and friends and many of his own age.
He became a charismatic penitent. The Brothers and Sisters of Penance see the pattern of gradual conversion that marked Francis' spiritual journey as the defining characteristic or charism of the Third Order Regular.
At first Francis sought to live a life of solitude and prayer. Within a few years he came to see God was calling him to give new momentum to a movement already present among the Christian faithful, a life of conversion - the challenge to LIVE the Gospels in his daily life. Francis found that other men of Assisi were attracted to the same vision - to follow Christ and His Apostles. Soon there grew a small commune which settled on the outskirts of a town near the abandoned Church of Our Lady of the Angels. Here a new Order in the Church was born. Today it is
Before Francis died in 1226 at the age of 44, he founded three Orders. His gift to humankind was his love of God as he experienced Him in all of His creation. His imprint on history are the men and women who identify with his vision in the Franciscan way of life. That legacy lives on in the followers of Francis who today seek to inspire in themselves and others the ideals of peace and justice of the gospels.