Sunday, October 5, 2008
All around the world today, Catholic churches celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi by blessing animals and their owners.
St. Francis, born Giovanni Francesco Bernardone in Assisi, Italy, is the patron saint of animals and the environment.
After spending his early years as a wayward youth, St. Francis became a soldier and was a prisoner of war. After his release, he became sick for a long time. He began having visions and heard God's voice in a church in San Damiano telling him to go and repair His house which going to ruins. He also rebelled against the riches that surrounded him and refused to join his friends' carousing ways.
At Mass, he listened to Matthew's gospel (10:7-10): And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. It was then that he decided to live a life of poverty.
Leading a life of penance and prayer, he began to preach about peace with God, peace with others and peace with oneself. He treated God's creations as his brothers and sisters. In 1210, he was given permission to start a new religious order named Friars Minor by Pope Innocent III.
The life of St. Francis was filled with hardships and challenges. He had to turn his back to his parents and family members. In 1219, he and his band of brothers went on a pilgrimage of peace to Egypt where he was allowed by the sultan (after much debate) to preach his message of peace.
One of his first recruits was St. Clare who would later found the Poor Clares and be declared by Pope Pius XII as the patron saint of television.
Two years before his death in 1226, he received the stigmata (five wounds of Jesus Christ).
His life has been written about in several books; the latest two were written by Donald Spoto and Robert Kennedy Jr. Also several films were made: Brother Sun, Sister Moon directed by Franco Zeffirelli and the TV film version of Spoto's book.
With the world in the grip of global warming and terrorism, St. Francis' intercession and examples are much needed to help us get through these times.