03 October 2018

Celebrating Saint Francis
and his love of creation

‘The Vision of Saint Francis’ (ca 1590-1595) by El Greco in the National Gallery of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Tomorrow [4 October] is the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. This day is popular for blessing the animals and also marks the end of ‘Creation Time’ in many parts of the Church.

I went to school in Gormanston, Co Meath, a school run by Franciscans, and now that I am living in Askeaton, I am reminded of Saint Francis and his values when I walk around the ruins of the Franciscan friary and its beautiful cloisters, where there is a mediaeval carved image of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Apart from figures in the Biblical figures, Saint Francis may be the most popular saint in the Church, and he is loved in the all the churches.

He has inspired Pope Francis, who took the saint’s name when he was elected Pope in 2013. Like Saint Francis, Pope Francis washes the feet of women prisoners each year on Maundy Thursday and he has visited a soup kitchen in Assisi.

Saint Francis was born in Assisi in Italy around 1181, and he was baptised with the name Giovanni (for Saint John the Baptist). But his father changed the boy’s name to Francesco because he liked France.

As a young boy and a teenager, Francesco di Bernardone was a rebel. He dressed oddly, spent much of his time alone and quarrelled with his father.

His father expected him to take over the family business. But young Francis was too much of a rebel. All that began to change when he was taken prisoner in 1202 during a war. When he was freed, he was seriously ill, and while he was recovering he had a dream in which he was told ‘to follow the Master, not the man.’

He turned to prayer, penance and almsgiving. One day while praying, he said, God called him to ‘repair my house.’ In 1206, he sold some valuable cloth from his father’s shops to rebuild a run-down church of San Damiano.

His father dragged the young man before the religious authorities, and that was that, finally, for Francis and his father.

Francis turned his back on all that wealth, became a friar, put his complete trust in God, and made his home in an abandoned church. He wore simple clothes, looked after the lepers, made friends with social outcasts and embraced a life of no possessions.

Others joined him, and so began the story of the Franciscans.

Saint Francis is said to have once told his followers, ‘Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.’ In other words, people are more likely to see what we believe in what we do rather than believe us because of what we say..

The widely known ‘Prayer of Saint Francis’ has also been attributed to Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and 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. Amen.

The cloisters in the ruins of the Franciscan friary in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Francis celebrated God’s creation, and his most famous poem is his ‘Canticle of the Sun.’ He also organised the first Crib to celebrate Christmas.

He was 44 when he died on the evening of 3 October 1226. By then, his order had spread throughout western Christendom.

A mediaeval carved image of Saint Francis of Assisi in the cloisters in the ruins of the Franciscan friary in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect (Common Worship):

O God, you ever delight to reveal yourself
to the childlike and lowly of heart:
grant that, following the example of the blessed Francis,
we may count the wisdom of this world as foolishness
and know only Jesus Christ and him crucified,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lights in the chapel at Gormanston, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These notes were prepared for a reflection at assembly in Rathkeale No 2 National School, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, on 3 September 2018

The Chiesa di San Francesco was built in San Marino by the Franciscans in 1351-1400 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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