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Church of The Annunciation
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Church of The Annunciation
“It is not the actual physical exertion that counts towards one’s progress, nor the nature of the task, but the spirit of faith with which it is undertaken.”
Patron of: Missionaries
Credited with converting hundreds of thousands of people, St. Francis Xavier is considered the most successful missionary since St. Paul. In his own life, he evolved from being a sheltered, wealthy intellectual to becoming a fearless explorer traveling to newly discovered lands, happily living among the lowest castes of people, improving their lives with love and grace. The novena in his honor, the Miraculous Novena of Grace is said to bring the force of grace into our lives, creating a more harmonious relationship with the world around us.
Born in the Kingdom of Navarre, the Basque region of Spain, Francis grew up in his family’s castle. Much admired for his intellectual gifts, he was sent to the University of Paris where it was thought that he would become one of its more gifted professors. His life changed drastically when he met an older student named Ignatius Loyola who had a small band of followers. Together with Loyola, St. Francis Xavier formed a new religious order, The Society of Jesus (now known as the Jesuits) with the intention of spreading Christ’s word to the farthest corners of the earth. The King of Portugal sent Francis Xavier on his first mission to Goa in India where his country had a colony. He was concerned about the lack of religious practice available to his people and Francis’s mandate was to form a ministry for his Portuguese subjects. However, the European merchants and traders were more interested in gambling, drinking, slave trading and prostitution than in any religious preachings. When Francis Xavier attempted to meet with the Brahmin or wealthy local people, he was equally rebuffed. He then decided he would work with the lowest of the low, shocking both European and upper caste Indians by openly treating beggars, prostitutes, prisoners and the illegitimate as equals. The many eloquent letters he wrote about his life and work among society’s outcasts are still enlightening reading today.
Gifted in languages, Francis Xavier had the ability to easily communicate in the various dialects spoken in the region. He is credited with saving the Paravas, an indigenous people who were pearl divers on the coastal islands from decimation and enslavement by the various Arab and European traders who plagued them. Excited by his great success, Francis Xavier travelled throughout the Far East and he was the first missionary to travel to Japan. Not always met with the same respect and openness that he offered others, he endured his frustration with good spirits. He died on the island of Chang-Chuen-Shan, never realizing his dream of reaching mainland China. His body was put in quicklime and taken back to Goa, where it lies in a much visited shrine.
Most amiable and most loving Saint Francis Xavier, in union with you I reverently adore the Divine Majesty. I rejoice exceedingly on account of the marvelous gifts which God bestowed upon you. I thank God for the special graces he gave you during your life on earth and for the great glory that came to you after your death. I implore you to obtain for me, through your powerful intercession, the greatest of all blessings, that of living and dying in the state of grace. I also beg of you to secure for me the special favor I ask in this novena. In asking this favor, I am fully resigned to the Divine Will. I pray and desire only to obtain that which is most conducive to the greater glory of God and the greater good of my soul. Amen.
(Here you may mention the grace, spiritual or temporal that you wish to obtain).
(Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, one Glory Be).
There are two times a year when the Miraculous Novena of Grace is considered especially powerful: from March 4 to March 12 and from November 25 to December 3.
“We must pray without tiring, for the salvation of mankind does not depend on material success; nor on sciences that cloud the intellect. Neither does it depend on arms and human industries, but on Jesus alone.”
Invoked For: Immigrants
The first American citizen to be named a saint, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini never desired to travel to, much less spend her life in her adopted country of the United States of America. Born Maria Francesca Cabrini in northern Italy, she intended to use her schoolteacher’s degree to work as a missionary in China. Suffering through a smallpox epidemic which killed her parents, she was turned down by two convents she attempted to join. When she was finally accepted by one, she was sent to a small town to run an orphanage which was eventually closed. Enthralled by the works of Saint Francis Xavier, the Jesuit Missionary, she took his name and founded an order of nuns, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Many were shocked to see how quickly her new order was approved by the Pope. Instead of granting her wish to continue her namesake’s work in China, Pope Leo XIII told her, “Your China will be the United States.”
At that time 50,000 Italian immigrants lived crammed in a filthy ghetto in New York City. There was no one there to help or intercede for them. Arriving with six other nuns, Mother Cabrini was told to go home by the archbishop of New York. Instead, she moved her nuns into the Italian slums and immediately opened an orphanage. Through her personal tenacity as well as her willingness to live among the poor, Mother Cabrini set an impressive example for those trying to enact social reforms. Gifted with an innate business sense, and due to the great success her order had in caring for the destitute and displaced, Mother Cabrini was able to raise money from all levels of society. Within a few short years the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart had opened orphanages, schools, hospitals and nurse’s homes throughout the United States, Central America, Argentina, Brazil, France, Spain, England and Italy. She became a United States citizen in 1909.
Though she was a tireless worker and an excellent administrator, Mother Cabrini felt the most important part of her day was the time she spent in mediation. Devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, she felt great strength was to be found in humility, obedience and a quiet atmosphere. In her own case, by following the Pope’s orders at the expense of her personal dreams, she found more success in her mission than she could ever imagine was possible. At the time of her death, she had sixty seven foundations and over thirteen hundred missionaries carrying out her work.
O loving Savior, infinitely generous, seeking only our interest, from your Sacred Heart, came these words of pleading love: “Come to me all you that labor and are burdened and I will refresh you.” Relying on this promise of your infinite charity, we come to you and in the lowliness of our hearts earnestly beg you to grant us the favor we ask in this novena,
(mention your request here)
through the intercession of your faithful servant, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini.
“If you are ruled by the mind you are king, if by the body you are a slave.”
Patron of: Philosophy
Brilliant and beautiful, Catherine of Alexandria was a force to be reckoned with. While still in her teens she had mastered philosophy, several languages and medicine. Because of her clarity of mind, she had great poise and self-confidence. One of the Fourteen Heavenly Helpers, the people of the Middle Ages believed she was one of the most powerful of early saints and invoked her for everything. Definite in her beliefs, we call on her for help in our studies or before we begin a major project, as she will clearly guide us.
The daughter of a governor, Catherine lived in a sumptuous palace among beautiful objects and scientific wonders. It is said she told her mother that she refused to marry anyone who was not as brilliant or beautiful as herself. Her mother readily agreed, not realizing that Catherine had discovered Christianity in her philosophical studies and had vowed herself to Christ. While working in her palace she heard the screams of a group of Christians who were being tortured . for refusing to give up their faith. Catherine went straight to the Emperor Maxentius and demanded he stop this persecution. Charmed by Catherine’s beauty, he invited her to debate the leading philosophers in the region to see if she could be persuaded to abandon Christianity by reasonable arguments. Instead of these fifty great scholars winning over the young girl with their scholarly knowledge, Catherine converted them to Christianity. Enraged, the Emperor had all fifty of these great men burned in the public square.
The Emperor then tried to charm Catherine with promises of great riches if she would become his concubine. Reminding him of her promise to Christ, she refused and was instantly imprisoned. While Maxentius was away on a trip, his wife visited Catherine in prison aand Catherine converted her to Christianity along with her prison guards and the Captain of the Emperor’s Legion. Upon his return to Alexandria, Maxentius was outraged at what he regarded to be the betrayal of his wife and legion. He ordered Catherine to be killed by being rolled on a spiked wheel. Catherine was fastened to the giant wheel and just as it was about to be rolled, her straps broke and she was released as the wheel shattered into hundreds of pieces killing many in the crowd. Catherine was then beheaded by sword. According to legend, angels then transported her body to the top of Mount Sinai, where a monastery and church devoted to Saint Catherine still exists.
St. Catherine is always depicted with a wheel and she is the patron of any occupation that requires a wheel. During the Middle Ages St. Cahterine was viewed as an exemplary example for unmarried women. Therefore, in France and England St. Catherines’s Day is celebrated by unmarried women asking for husbands.
Almighty and eternal God! With lively faith and reverently worshiping Thy divine Majesty, I prostrate myself before Thee and invoke with filial trust Thy supreme bounty and mercy. Illumine the darkness of my intellect with a ray of Thy heavenly light and inflame my heart with the fire of Thy divine love, that I may contemplate the great virtues and merits of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in whose honor I make this novena, and following her example imitate, like her, the life of Thy divine Son. Moreover, I beseech Thee to grant graciously, through the merits and intercession of this powerful Helper, the petition which through him I humbly place before Thee, devoutly saying, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
(Mention your request here.)
Vouchsafe graciously to hear it, if it redounds to Thy greater glory and to the salvation of my soul.
nt Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us!
The feast day for Our Lady of Pompeii is the day for
Our Lady of the Rosary, October 7.
Bartolo Longo wrote about his great disappointment upon being given the miraculous painting of Our Lady of the Rosary:
Not only was it worm-eaten, but the face of the Madonna was that of a course, rough, country-woman . . . a piece of canvas was missing just above her head . . . her mantle was cracked. Nothing need be said of the hideousness of the other figures. St. Dominic looked like a street idiot. To Our Lady’s left was a Saint Rose. This I had changed later into a Saint Catherine of Siena. . . .
I hesitated whether to refuse the gift or to accept. . . . I took it.
Bought in a junk shop for less than a dollar, the painting was kept in a
convent. Its reluctant recipient had promised to bring a painting to a prayer meeting he was sponsoring in the dilapidated town of Valle di Pompei. It was so artistically inferior that he accepted it only so as not to insult the mother superior of the convent. She told him, “Take it with you, you will see that the Blessed Mother will use this painting to work many miracles.” Little did he realize the extent of transformation it would bring to the town, its residents, and the world.
Bartolo Longo was born in 1841, the child of a well-to-do family. As a law student at the University of Naples, he was swept up in the wave of anticlericalism then popular among the intelligentsia. He eventually befriended a group of Spiritualists and began attending seances. This led to his being inducted into a satanic cult where he publicly mocked and derided all aspects of the Catholic faith. The frequent fasts and gruesome rituals demanded of him as a priest of Satan weakened his physical and mental health, eventually leading to a nervous breakdown. A law professor noticed Longo’s frail physical and emotional state and aided him in his release from the grip of the occult. As his health returned, Longo was introduced to a Dominican priest trained in philosophy and theology. Eventually he was rebaptized as a Catholic, taking the middle name Maria after the Virgin Mary. The history of the Dominican order is based on Saint Dominic’s propagation of the rosary. Longo felt the repetitive rhythm of the Hail Mary in the rosary had a calming effect on his spirit and gave him a sense of well-being. He became a Dominican tertiary devoted to teaching the rosary. As a penance for his former life he chose to work in the poor and destitute town of Valle di Pompei.
Located within minutes of the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii, the little town was founded by Christians three hundred years after the destruction of the ancient city by the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in a.d. 79. In the eleventh century the Benedictine order was entrusted with caring for the large and thriving church that stood within the town. A malaria epidemic all but wiped out the entire population in 1659. The large church was razed and replaced by a smaller one. The land was ceded to a Neapolitan nobleman and left in neglect. Over the years, the remaining residents were considered “superstitious and criminal, many being thieves.” When Bartolo Longo arrived to work among the people there in 1872, there was no school and no government representative, and the little church had deteriorated and was infested with rats and lizards. He went door to door to preach the importance of the rosary to
little effect. His discouragement turned to suicidal despair as he thought of his past. He wrote:
“I thought that perhaps as the priesthood of Christ is for eternity, so also the priesthood of Satan is for eternity. So, despite my repentance, I thought that I was still consecrated to Satan, and that I am still his slave and property as he awaits me in Hell. As I pondered over my condition, I experienced a deep sense of despair and almost committed suicide. Then I heard an echo in my ear of the voice of Friar Alberto repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary: ‘One who propagates my Rosary shall be saved.’”
He vowed to continue his mission regardless of its apparent failure. He began prayer meetings in the church, which at first were attended only by a few
children. His restoration of the little church brought in more people, and he invited the Redemptorist Fathers to hold a two-week mission. He had
promised to display a painting of the Virgin Mary for the last evening. The only artwork available to him was the poorly executed work of art that he received from the nuns. On November 13, 1875, The Queen of the Rosary arrived in Pompeii wrapped in a sheet on top of a manure pile that was being delivered to a nearby field. The public display of the painting effected immediate changes in the little town. Three hundred families promised a penny a month in order to build a better church to house it. As soon as the cornerstone was laid for the new basilica in May 1876, miraculous healings began taking place at the shrine. In 1880 the painting was restored by the famous Neapolitan painter Federico Maldarelli (1826–1893). The basilica was completed in 1881. The community working and praying together changed the town from a depressed, dangerous, and dirty place to a thriving city. Bartolo Longo went on to found many hospices, orphanages, and devotional societies centered on the healing powers of the rosary. There are churches named after Our Lady of Pompeii all over the world.
This painting, currently on display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Pompeii attracts thousands of pilgrims a day. The image itself depicts Mary as Queen of Heaven. She sits on a throne inside a church with the Christ Child on her lap. She, in turn, becomes the physical throne for Him. The Infant Jesus is handing the rosary to Saint Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order. Mary is handing a rosary to Saint Catherine of Siena, a Dominican tertiary who is also the patron saint of Italy. Both Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine were mystics who had visions of Mary. The Dominican Order propagates the rosary in the belief it puts one in a higher state of mind and opens one up to grace.
At Pompeii the Virgin Mary worked through the unlikely instruments of a former satanist and a discarded painting. The transformation of the neglected town of Pompeii and its people have inspired all who visit the basilica or read its story.
Abbess and founder of the Poor Clares
Feast Day: August 11
Without ever leaving her convent on the outskirts of Assisi, Saint Clare founded orders of nuns throughout Italy, France, and Germany. Though she maintained a vow of silence, popes, cardinals, and royalty came to her for spiritual advice. Only twelve years younger than her mentor, Saint Francis of Assisi, she quietly helped him lead a movement of young people that confronted the church hierarchy for their material excesses, and revolutionized religious expression by embracing simplicity and poverty.
Chiara Offreduccio was the daughter of a wealthy count and countess in Assisi, Italy, and displayed little interest in the worldly advantages offered by her highborn state. She was eighteen and destined for an arranged, profitable marriage when she heard Saint Francis deliver the Lenten sermon at her church. Inspired by his simple message of living with complete trust in God, she conspired to run away and live like this new order of mendicant friars, dependent solely on alms received from begging. The turning point for her occurred on Palm Sunday, 1212. On that day, Clare went to the Cathedral of Assisi in her finest clothes for the blessing of the palms. While others went to the altar rail to receive their palms, she sat in her seat, too shy to move. With the entire congregation as witness, the bishop stepped down from the altar and delivered the palms to her. She took this as a sign to act on her plan.
Homes in Assisi were built with two doors, one for regular use and one called the Door of the Dead, opened only to remove a coffin from the house. That night, Clare secretly cleared the debris from the Door of the Dead and stepped through it, renouncing her former life and the material world forever. She slipped through the woods to the chapel of the Porziuncola, where Francis and his small community of men were at prayer. Clare exchanged her finery for a penitential tunic of coarse cloth tied with a rope, and Francis cut off her luxurious hair in front of the Blessed Virgin’s altar. Having no separate living facility for women, he then took her to the local Benedictine convent.
Clare’s family embarked on a rescue mission, sparing no expense. During a violent struggle to drag Clare from the convent, her clothing was torn off, and her shorn hair revealed. She declared to her shocked father, “The only spouse I will have is Christ, and further attempts to remove me from my chosen life will make me more steadfast!” Her powerful father had to submit to her will and leave her behind. To his great anguish his younger daughter Agnes joined Clare just two weeks later. Thus began a fashionable tradition of wealthy young women turning their backs on privilege and society in order to follow a higher spiritual path. Francis of Assisi had offered his peers a way of living that shook the foundations of society in the Middle Ages. Instead of becoming dependent behind the walls of staid, established religious orders, he encouraged his followers to exist in a day-to-day manner, experiencing nature and depending on the goodwill of others. The joy he and his band of friars exuded was infectious and he developed a following wherever he went. Clare was the first young woman with the courage to join him.
In 1215, when Clare was twenty-two years old, Saint Francis installed her as the Abbess of the Order of Poor Ladies in a small house across from the Church of San Damiano. These women followed the Franciscan rule, forbidden to own property or material goods and entirely dependent on the alms the Friars Minor could beg for them. Upon the death of her father, Clare did not veer from Saint Francis’s teachings. She gave her vast inheritance to the poor rather than to her own religious community. This act of devotion caused much controversy–Church authorities expected women to give their dowries to the religious orders they joined. This was to ensure that the nuns would be supported throughout their lives and would not serve as a burden to their parish communities. Because she was the founder of this order of women, Clare set a precedent for future Franciscan convents.
Despite this disagreement with church hierarchy, convents of Poor Clares, as the order became known, were started in cities all over Italy, gradually spreading to France and Germany. These first convents attracted many educated and wealthy women who not only walked away from titles and estates but also lived in a state of self-imposed austerity that was considered extreme for men and unheard of for women. They went barefoot, wore sackcloth, slept on the ground, ate no meat, and maintained a vow of silence, speaking only out of necessity. Agnes, daughter of the King of Bohemia, broke her engagement to become Empress of the Holy Roman Empire to start an order of Poor Clares. The correspondence between Agnes and Clare leaves a lasting portrayal of the intellectual brilliance and good nature of the order’s founder.
Because of her great mind, Saint Clare was an invaluable adviser to Saint Francis. When he was wrestling with the choice of becoming a religious hermit or going out in the world to evangelize his movement, she encouraged him to go out to the people. It was Clare who nursed Francis through the last days of his life, and it was under her care that he composed his greatest work, “Canticle of the Sun.” After Francis’s death, Clare could never be convinced to relax his strict rules of poverty, remaining the most loyal adherent of his teachings.
Though she was abbess of her own order of nuns, Clare lived as humbly as possible. She served at the table, tended the sick, and washed the feet of the lay sisters when they returned from begging. Because of the austere manner in which she lived, Clare’s health suffered, and like Francis, she had the reputation for mystical powers. When she prayed, she exuded a rainbow aura and enjoyed a silent rapport with animals. While bedridden, she would embroider altar cloths for neighboring churches and her cat would bring her whatever she needed.
Even when ill, Clare remained a powerful spiritual force. In 1234, the army of Frederick II was at war with the Papal States, and the convent of Poor Clares in Assisi came under attack by a band of Saracen mercenaries. Clare rose from her sickbed and took a monstrance containing a host from the chapel. While ladders were being set up for the invaders to scale the walls, Clare calmly prayed, “Does it please Thee, O God, to deliver into the hands of these beasts the defenseless children whom I have nourished with Thy love? I beseech Thee good Lord, protect these whom now I am not able to protect.” She then heard the voice of a child saying, “I will have them always in my care.” In response, she turned to the terrified nuns and told them to have no fear but to trust in Jesus. In that instant, the attackers were seized with an incredible wave of dread and they fled the convent. The citizens of Assisi credit Clare with saving them from a later assault by the same army. Telling her nuns that they needed to support the city that had given them so much charity, she had them pray day and night until the attacking army inexplicably gave up and retreated.
Two days before her death at the age of fifty-nine, Pope Innocent IV approved the rule for her order, which she had formally written herself. As she lay on her deathbed, her sister Agnes and the early followers of Saint Francis were at Clare’s bedside, reciting the same prayers for her as they had said for him.
In art, Saint Clare is usually depicted holding the monstrance that she held in driving out the Saracens. Those working in embroidery as Clare did, frequently suffer from eye problems, and so she is their patron as well as patron to those who treat the eyes. Because gold work requires intense use of the eyes, gilders are also under her patronage. Because her name, Chiara, means clear, she is called upon for clarity of vision. Since laundresses work at dawn and her name reminds one of the effects of the rising sun, they are also under her protection. Vision and clarity accompanied Clare throughout her life. When she was too ill to attend Christmas midnight mass, she was able to visualize it on her wall, amazing those who did attend by relaying exact information of the events. Because of this miracle, she was named the patron of television, telegraph operators, and the telephone in 1958.
Prayer of Saint Clare of Assisi
Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road.
Go forth without fear, for he who created you has made you holy,
Has always protected you, and loves you as a mother.
Blessed be you, my God, for having created me.
Reviled, ridiculed, and considered a raving madman by his contemporaries, Francis of Assisi turned his back on the comfortable world of his birth to revitalize the message of Christ. By the time of his death, his holiness was universally recognized and he had shaken the staid convictions of church and political officials to their core. Today, his simple message of love for God, the earth, and all its creatures makes him revered by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Born Giovanni Bernadone in the prosperous hill town of Assisi, he was a spoiled and indulged young man given to dressing well, playing pranks, and carousing with friends. The son of a wealthy cloth merchant, he was nicknamed Francesco (“The Frenchman”) because of his French mother. On a boastful lark at the age of twenty, he fought in a minor war against the neighboring town of Perugia. Everything changed when the enemy captured him and he spent a year in prison. When his father finally ransomed him home, Francis was ill with malaria and debilitated. Forced to endure months of quiet bed rest in order to recover, he found it hard to resume his old ways. Neither his friends nor his father’s business held much interest for him.
In an effort to regain his former life, Francis made an attempt to fight for the Papal States under Walter de Brienne. Equipped with the finest armor, he met a shabbily clad knight along the way and on a whim exchanged clothes with him. That night in a dream, a voice told him to turn back and serve “the Master rather than the man.” After his father and friends ridiculed him for his desertion, he roamed the countryside alone in a state of spiritual crisis. One day, as he was wandering, Francis came upon a leper and was initially revolted by his sores. However, instead of turning away, Francis leapt from his horse, gave the leper all his money, and then kissed his hand. Thus began what Francis later called his conversion. It also began his daily ritual of visiting hospitals and leper colonies and meditating in the crumbling church of San Damiano.
Just beyond the walls of Assisi, San Damiano had been deserted by the town’s faithful and was tended by a single elderly priest. In 1205, while Francis was praying in front of the crucifix, he heard a voice, “Go, Francis, and repair my house which as you see, is falling into ruin.” Looking around at the decaying structure, Francis interpreted this request literally. He hurried to his father’s shop, bundled up as much fabric and drapery as he could carry, and sold it in the marketplace in order to buy building supplies. His father was furious and dragged him to the city consuls, not only to recover the money for the fabric but to force Francis to denounce his inheritance as well. At this meeting, Francis insisted that he was a servant of God and should not be judged by a civil court. He relinquished the gold and stripped himself of all his belongings. Handing them to his father he said, “From now onwards, I can turn to God and call him my father in heaven!” He left Assisi dressed in the garments of a hermit.
Although he was now penniless, Francis was still intent on keeping his promise to rebuild San Damiano. He begged for stones and alms in the street, and the townfolk considered him a madman. He did eventually complete his task and Francis went on to repair other churches, including Santa Maria degli Angeli, known as the Porziuncola. Considered by Francis to be “one of the holiest places on earth,” this little chapel was originally erected in 353 by hermits from the Valley of Josaphat. It housed relics of the Virgin Mary and became known as Our Lady of the Angels because people reported hearing the sound of singing angels coming from inside at night. Francis, who had a deep connection to the Virgin Mary, built himself a hut near her church and would pray for her intercession in giving him earthly direction. On February 24, 1209, while at mass, he heard the Gospel of Matthew 10:9, where Jesus told his followers, “And going, preach, saying The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand . . . Freely have you received. Freely give. Take neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses . . .nor two coats, nor shoes nor a staff . . . Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves . . .”
Stricken to the core, Francis immediately cast off what few possessions he had until he was dressed only in the coarse woolen tunic of the poor. He set out to Assisi to preach penance, brotherly love, and peace. His manner was so warm and sincere that, instead of scoffing at him, people listened with fascination to what he had to say. Here before them was the most Christlike man they had ever seen. The Porziuncola filled with his followers. By the end of that year, a small community of eleven men was following Francis and the simple Rule he wrote adapting the precepts of the gospel.
In the summer of 1210, Francis and his companions traveled to Rome to seek the blessing of the pope for this new order of Friars Minor. Papal ecclesiastical advisers declared that the Rule of the Order, though taken solely from Christ’s command, was impractical and unsafe, and Francis’s request was rejected. That night Pope Innocent III had a dream in which Francis was holding up the Lateran Church with his shoulder. The next morning the pope immediately requested an audience with Francis and approved his mission. Upon the Friars’ return to Umbria, the Benedictine Order attempted to give them the Porziuncola for their monastery. Francis only accepted the use of the property. He strongly felt that their Order must always live in holy poverty, never owning anything. Even their name, Friars Minor (Little Brothers) reminded the men to never exalt themselves above anyone.
The first Friars Minor traveled throughout Italy, joyfully preaching by day and sleeping in haylofts at night. Forbidden to take money, they supported their mission by working with laborers in the fields or begging for their meals. Having proved themselves adept at local peacemaking and sowing contentment, many of the Italian city-states invited them to preach and set up small communities within their borders. Missions were sent to Spain, Germany, Hungary, and France. Without trying to be revolutionaries, Francis and his followers completely changed the way the Church reached people. Because he truly believed that all of nature was wondrous and all creatures sacred to God, Francis introduced a new way of looking at the world, one accessible to rich and poor alike. His order attracted a socially diverse group of men and spawned an affiliated women’s order with Saint Clare of Assisi. He later drew up a rule for laity who desired to associate themselves with the Friars Minor. This order of Franciscan Tertiaries, or the Third Order of Saint Francis, exists today with worldwide membership from the Catholic, Episcopal, and Anglican Churches. Just as they did under Francis, members continue to follow the rules of humility, charity, and voluntary poverty.
Francis was a true mystic. It was said that birds would quiet down and listen when he preached, and there are many tales of his ability to communicate with animals. When the citizens of Gubbio were being terrorized by a man-eating wolf, for example, Francis went up in the hills to find it. Upon seeing the vicious animal, he made the sign of the cross and invited the wolf to come to him. The wolf docilely lay at his feet, and Francis drafted a pact between the wolf, and citizens of Gubbio; in exchange for being regularly fed by the town, the wolf would leave its residents in peace. Both sides agreed, and Gubbio was freed from this menace.
Francis’s life of sacrifice and self-deprivation put an incredible strain on his body. When he prayed, the light he saw in his raptures was so intense that it caused him to continuously weep. His followers feared for his eyesight, but he said he could not resist being in the presence of such a brilliant light. His devotions became more and more extreme and in August of 1224 Francis retired to the secluded mountain of La Verna for a forty-day retreat before the Feast of Saint Michael. He devoted most of his meditations to the wounds and suffering of Christ. At dawn on September 14, after a night of prayer, he had a vision of a Seraphim angel, nailed to a cross, flying at him. When the vision vanished, his body bore the stigmata of the crucified Christ. He bore these markings in secrecy for the last two years of his life. They were visible upon his death in October 1226.
The contributions of Francis of Assisi were not limited to religion. A great writer and poet, he wrote “Canticle of the Sun,” his masterpiece inspired by Saint Clare, in his native Italian. Writing in a language other than Latin was uncommon at the time, and it set the groundwork for the poetry of Dante Aligheri, a great admirer of Francis. Publicly acclaimed as a saint in his own lifetime, Francis of Assisi led one of the most documented lives of the Middle Ages. Within decades of his death, there were numerous biographies written by his followers. Perhaps the greatest memorial to this saint is the Basilica of Saint Francis, commissioned by the city of Assisi two years after his death. Considered one of the most important monuments of Europe, Giotto, Cimabue, and Simone Martini, the greatest artists of their day, decorated the interior with scenes from the saint’s life. Assisi itself exudes such an air of peace and love from having the presence of such a graceful being in its midst that it remains an important site for pilgrims devoted to the memory and teachings of Il Poverello (“The Little Poor Man”) known as Saint Francis.
Blessing of Saint Francis of Assisi
May the Lord bless you
and keep you;
may the Lord show his face to you
and have compassion on you!
May he turn his face to you
and give you peace!