Who is Saint Francis of Assisi?

Saint Francis of Assisi, born in 1182, lived only 44 years, dying in 1226. He was the son of st_francis_assisi_prayer_carda wealthy merchant, known for taking to the streets with his friends for fun and frolic. However, as he reached manhood, he took off for battle between his town of Assisi and the town of Perugia, Italy, where he landed in prison. Upon his release from prison in 1205, he sought the meaning of life, thinking it should be so much more than following in his father’s footsteps. Therefore, Francis turned his back on the family business to embrace the love of God and serve God through the imitation of Christ. He became a living human example of Christ in action, loving God and all that God made.

Francis was not a theologian, buried amidst a pile of books looking for the true meaning of God. No, Francis found God in his own heart, the heart that burned with love. Through prayer and contemplation, penance and sacrifice, Francis developed a loving relationship with God from which the essence of his spirituality flowed.

Francis trusted God. By detaching himself from earthly cares, he freed himself to open his heart to God. He moved from a life of luxury and indulgence to a life of austerity and self-imposed poverty. He embraced the simplicity of Christ’s life, following Christ as closely as possible. Three biblical passages were near and dear to Francis’ heart and guided his every action:

  1. Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’ (Matt 19:21).
  2. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me’ (Matt 16:24).
  3. He said to them ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, nor let no one take a second tunic’ (Luke 9:3).

Francis lived by these instructions. He never worried about where his next meal would come from; where he would lay his head to rest; or how he would keep warm in winter. He knew God would provide.

Francis’ approach came across as refreshing to those who became followers. By his own example, he lived the Gospel, rather than talk about the Gospel. Francis did everything for love of God, neighbor and nature, by expressing passion about God and everything that God made.

Francis liked being around people most of the time. However, he understood the need for solitude, silence and stillness. In living the Gospel, he recognized that Christ would also go to pray alone before important decisions or events. Francis would do the same. Yet, he also saw the need to be among the people in service to their needs. He balanced his time between service and solitude.

Within only three years of release from prison, Francis had twelve companions who joined him. They were a community emphasizing a top priority on love, fellowship, brotherliness, and mutual support. Within a year’s time of banding together, Francis recognized a need for organization and a rule of conduct for his little community. The very first sentence of the Rule summarizes all that Francis wanted to accomplish in establishing the Order of Friars Minor:

The rule and life of the Minor Brothers is this, namely to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without property, and in chastity (Rule of Saint Francis, Catholic Encyclopedia).

This statement directly correlates back to the three biblical passages from the New Testament, continually referred to by Francis to define what it means to follow Christ.

Men of all different walks of life joined the Order; the wealthy and the poor, the educated and the uneducated; all were welcome. Everyone was treated the same, with no distinctions, except for ordained priests. Francis thought it important that all men should be considered equal, to better foster humility. Francis also believed in obedience, poverty and chastity because Jesus was obedient to God the Father. Jesus lived a life on earth in poverty, and Jesus never married. With the establishment of the Order of Friars Minor formally blessed by papal authority, Francis sent his fellow brothers throughout Europe in pairs of two to evangelize as described in Luke 9:3.

Saint Francis of Assisi is considered one of the greatest saints because of his simplicity, sincerity, compassion, humility, gentleness, and joyous nature, the radical commitment to following Christ, and trust in God to provide. Francis possessed a willingness to live amongst the poor, to understand their struggles and to strive to bring souls to God through his preaching. Francis imitated Christ in everything that he thought and did. He encountered Christ daily, truly living the deep Christian way of living that defines Christian spirituality. Francis was open to God; giving his life over to God, so that the will of God would be accomplished in the life of Francis.

The charisms of Saint Francis flow forth into every person who becomes a Franciscan (Order of Friars Minor, Poor Clares, or Secular Franciscan). Today, we have over one million Franciscans. The simplicity, sincerity, compassion, humility, gentleness, and joyous nature, the radical commitment to following Christ, and trust in God to provide, so effervescent in Francis, are trademarks of Franciscan spirituality to this day. Living the Gospel, with authenticity, is a very alluring attitude that draws people in. Extending care and concern keeps one’s attention. Service with love converts followers. Coming to know Jesus in your heart, not just knowing about Him from reading books, that creates Christians – and that is what Franciscans do – they “rebuild the Church!”

Virginia Lieto teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College. She recently published her first children’s book Finding Patience and blogs at virginialieto.com.

The Jesus Effect

Worth Revisiting Wednesday – in light of Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States. This article originally appeared on February 11, 2015. 


Pope2CongressScreenshot-1024x567Much has been made of the so-called Francis Effect in the public relations game the secular media plays with the Church. At first, it seemed a boon to the Church, though the jury is still out as to its lasting impact. But even Pope Francis himself would agree that it is not the Francis Effect that we want in our lives. It is a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We want the Jesus Effect.

The name Jesus means “God saves”. We hear these phrases often – “Jesus saves” or “You must accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” And these things are true. Jesus does save us from the power of sin, and he is very, very personal. He knows each one of us intimately, and longs for us to know him just as well.

In coming to know Jesus, we come to know our true selves. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We know this God has revealed himself to be nothing other than LOVE itself. God is love – we read it in John’s Gospel. We are made in the image and likeness of LOVE. When you look in the mirror, do you see LOVE looking back at you?

We all try to be loving people. And we know from experience that when we love, we are happier. If we are made in the image of LOVE, then, when we love, we are being our true selves. This is why the more we get to know Jesus, the more we come to know our true selves. We are made to love. We are made to love and to be loved. We are always loved by God – this is what enables us to know how to love others (and to actually do it!). The power of this love is far more powerful than the power of sin. Both powers are more powerful than we are. We easily become “slaves to sin” because, without the power to overcome it, we can only give in to it. But with the power of love – AH. We are no longer slaves – we are free to love, free to be our true selves. You can see why it is so important to be in relationship with Jesus always, to seek him out, and to value every encounter with him.

I struggle to find words that adequately describe the power of this love experienced in an encounter with Jesus. Powerful, yes. Safe and secure. Energizing. Liberating. I think depending on where we are in our lives and what challenges we are facing, this love will have a different effect on us. It is interesting to look at some examples from the Scriptures of people who encountered Christ, and ponder the Jesus Effect in their lives.

John the Baptist (Luke 1:39-45/ Matthew 3:13-17)

visitation-1John the Baptist first encounters Jesus while both are still in their mothers’ wombs! When Mary arrives for her visit to Elizabeth, John leaps in her womb – he leaps for joy. He recognizes the presence of Jesus, and is happy – so happy he can’t control himself. He wants to come out and play with Jesus. The joy present in that moment is immense.

Can you think of a moment when you encountered Jesus and simply experienced pure and utter joy?

This same boy who recognized Jesus from his first encounter becomes the one who facilitates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to the world. John was baptizing people as they acknowledged their sins, but he was always fully aware that he was merely preparing people for their encounter with Jesus – calling them to repentance so that when the One who could forgive sin and conquer it –really take its power away – arrived, they would be ready to hand over their sins and be purified with love. John knows that Jesus does not need to be baptized for the sake of forgiving his sins – Jesus doesn’t have any! But Jesus tells him to do it anyway. The humility of John to do as he is told by Jesus, even without understanding, is rewarded with the voice of God affirming Jesus’ identity. His encounter with Jesus resulted in a trust in his way.

Can you think of a moment when you did something you felt God was calling you to do, even though it didn’t make any sense to you?

In our baptism, we die and rise with Christ – united to his Paschal Mystery. Our original sin is washed away – our lives controlled by sin dies, and a new life – freed by love – rises. Our dying and rising is united to Jesus’ death and resurrection – our lives become witnesses to the power of love over sin. Baptism is first a personal union with God – but in becoming personally united to God, we become joined to all the others who are united to God, and we love who are not yet united to God as God loves them. We desire that they, too, will come to know the love of God that we know. We become a community; we become church.

Now, just because we are baptized does not mean we are all loving and never sin. We know that’s not true! But God’s love for us is so great that he gives us many opportunities to become reunited to him. The most powerful opportunities are those we are given by participating in the sacramental life of the Church. Baptism brings us into the loving embrace of our God – the rest of the sacraments sustain us in that love. They are genuine encounters with Christ, and they have a Jesus Effect on us.

The Jesus Effect is not always one of joy. In Luke’s gospel, we meet someone who encounters Jesus and, instead of leaping for joy, breaks down in tears.

The Pardon of the Sinful Woman (Luke 7:36-50) is one of my favorite Scripture passages. Imagine what it must have been like to meet Jesus while he walked the earth. This woman’s response to meeting Jesus was one of utter humility and repentance. The two go hand in hand. You can’t really be repentant without being humble first. Humility enables us to acknowledge that we are not perfect. Humility is the greatest form of honesty, I think. We acknowledge who we are in front of God – not in front of anyone else, not compared to anyone else. It is just our true self – and how well we are being that (or not). Her response to Jesus was so beautiful because in it, she is saddened by her own sinfulness, while being completely overwhelmed by the forgiveness offered to her. Her focus is completely on Jesus. She is not distracted by the others present who speak ill of her. The power of the love of Jesus is so strong that it overshadows their sneers. Imagine that!

Can you think of a moment when you encountered the love of God so strongly that it silenced all the negative voices around you, at least in your ears? Now – can you think of a moment when you were that love of God to another?

The sacrament of reconciliation is an intense moment of this kind of love, and the season of Lent of a perfect time to encounter Jesus in this way. We can bring anything to confession, and Jesus will give us graces to overcome these temptations. He judges us only to save us – he judges what it is in our lives that is keeping us apart from him – and he tells us to stop doing these things – AND he gives us the grace to do so. He doesn’t leave us hanging. He wants to be intimately united to us. He gives us all we need to do it. This is the Jesus Effect – and it is everlasting.

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College.