St Francis is probably one of the best known saints, for he captures our imaginations with his joyful and complete giving of himself to God, and his recognition of the fact that we are all God’s creation. His relationship to the rest of creation is that of radical and transforming love. He thought of all of creation as his beloved relatives. He sought to live in harmony with all of nature.
The witness of Francis’ life is also that our faith in God and our living out of that faith is a process. Franciss didn’t go from a rich, pampered young man to a barefooted wanderer preaching God’s word overnight. He grew in his faith and his understanding of God and creation throughout his life.
Francis lived from 1181-1226; his ministry was predominately in Italy, particularly Assisi. Francis was born the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. As a child and young man, he was pampered and worldly, living an indulgent life.
One day, in a church in San Damiano, he heard the Jesus on the crucifix say three times: “Francis, go repair my house which is in ruins.” Believing that this was a command to rebuild the specific church in which he stood, Francis began selling off some of his father’s things to pay for a church renovation. When his father found out, he was furious. He dragged Francis to the local bishop, to insist he be repaid. It was there that Francis removed his rich garments, renounced his father, and left his wealth. The bishop took pity on him and gave him a rough garment to wear. Sometime after that, Francis was worshiping in another church when the reading was Matthew 10:7-20. “As you go, proclaim the good news, the kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. speaking through you.”
In that moment, Francis understood the words as a literal call and began his life as an itinerant: living a simple life and preaching the gospel to anyone he met—including the birds.
During his lifetime, Francis was most known for his joyful asceticism, his powerful preaching, and his service to the poor.
Francis was a man transformed by God’s grace who with dogged determination tried to put the words of the Gospel into practice. He sought to live in harmony with nature. He once preached to a flock of birds, reminding them that everything they had was due to God’s gracious gift and encouraging them to use their beautiful voices to praise God in song.
St Francis is also credited by being the person to create the first living nativity scene as a way to deepen the faith of those who would come to witness it. He included animals in his living nativity, saying that “Surely the animals praised the new Messiah just as the shepherds and the angels did.”