Saint Francis of Assisi died 787 years ago today, and yet he seems more alive than ever despite the passage of time. In the Catholic tradition, this anniversary marks the “Feast Day of St. Francis.” Remembering the champions who have gone before seems an appropriate tradition and one which Protestants lose out on. Francis of Assisi is certainly one whom Christians of all traditions ought to know and celebrate.
I lived in Assisi when I wrote my book about St. Francis and came to love the town as a second home . On this day, today in Assisi, Pope Francis — the first pope to own the name — is celebrating the life of this singular man.
Who Francis was, and is, too complex for a blog post and I will not attempt to capture him here. I will instead shamelessly direct you to my book, A Mended and Broken Heart, the Life and Love of Francis of Assisi if you are interested in a journalistic nonCatholic interpretation of his life. There are several great biographies out there and all them brings a ray of light about Francis that may have been lost in another. Read them all! You will grow to love Francis, as I have. But you still won’t catch him.
In commemoration of his death I include a brief passage from my book in which I attempt to reclaim that moment: From A Mended and Broken Heart (chapter 13)
Francis had told his brothers, “When you see me in extremis lay me down naked on the earth and leave me there for as long as it takes to walk a leisurely mile.” By early Saturday morning, October 3, 1226, death closed in. Francis’ eyes were shut, his teeth clenched, his face in a grimace of pain. The air smelled of damp linens, sweat, and blood. His breathing was labored. Sometimes he moaned. His limbs twitched. Tremors beset him. His fever pitched. He gasped for air. His wasted arms and legs stiffened. By nightfall, the languor of death descended.
Francis asked his brothers to put him on the ground. Brother Angelo and other brothers were singing the Canticle as Francis wept. On the ground he sang his last song, as it seemed creation’s voice returned. Francis could hear it, because he himself was singing it and he himself was part of the song. All losses had been righted. All that had been lost was found. His soul folded in on itself and then opened like a flower. Sun. Moon. Earth. Fire. Stars. Evening. Morning. “I call upon you, O Lord. Come quickly to me.”
In closing, I finish with words of Francis himself, explaining how he understands his role and the role of the “Franciscans” in this broken world.
“Since you speak of peace, all the more so must you have it in your hearts. Let none be provoked to anger or scandal by you, but rather may they be drawn to peace and good will through your gentleness. We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
All blessings, peace and good will, to you this day, dear Francis.