Wednesday, October 04, 2006
St Francis of Assisi
Today, 4th October, is the Feast Day (i.e. death anniversary) of St Francis of Assisi, one of the most loving and beloved figures associated with the Roman Catholic faith.
St. Francis was born at Assisi in Italy in 1182. After a carefree youth, he turned his back on inherited wealth and committed himself to God. He lived a very simple life of poverty – he married Poverty. He gained a reputation of being a friend of birds and animals. He established the rule of St Francis, which exists today as the Order of St. Francis, or the Franciscans. He died in 1226, aged 44. St Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of the environmental movement.
I first learnt about St Francis through coming across the Prayer associated with his name.
Here's a clip from the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), directed by Franco Zeffirelli, showing the Prayer.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I 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.
Some years later I found The Little Flowers of Saint Francis, a collection of beloved stories about St. Francis and the early days of his Order.
But it was only after reading Nikos Kazantzakis’ brilliant, empathic fictionalised biography of St Francis of Assisi, God’s Pauper (published in 1950), that I felt a close and fond bond with him. A reviewer in Amazon.com writes about God’s Pauper:
"Reading Kazantzakis' St. Francis is a consistently joyful, frequently ecstatic experience. A fictionalized account of the life of St. Francis, this novel allows the reader to know the saint almost personally. Told through the eyes of his loyal companion, the story not only chronicles the historic events in the life of St. Francis, but also captures the tumultuous essence of a life lived in longing for ever more service to God. This is one of the best books about St. Francis in existence. "
I was also fortunate to find in the RIMC Library in Dehradun – serendipity - In the Steps of St Francis by Ernest Raymond, another wonderful introduction (published in 1938) to this remarkable and lovable figure, in which the author sketches St Francis’ personality while visiting several places associated with him.
Also in the RIMC Library was the magnificent collector’s item, St. Francis of Assisi: 1226-1926: Essays in Commemoration, edited by Walter Seton, which was published by the University of London in 1926. (This book was given to the library by a master in the school, an Englishman, who had received it shortly after it was published, as a gift from someone in his family!)