Lesson Nineteen—The Discovery of Joy
Lesson: Once Francis had completed his work of physically rebuilding the three churches, God began to reveal to him his new mission in greater detail. One day, while attending Mass for the Feast of Saint Matthias the Apostle, Francis heard the Gospel, “Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick” (Matthew 10:9-10). Upon hearing those words, Francis was filled with joy. “This is what I desire and long for with all my heart,” he thought to himself.
The joy at hearing those words compelled Francis to act instantaneously and radically. He immediately got rid of his second tunic, choosing to keep only one very simple one. He shed his shoes, his walking stick, and all that he owned. In place of his leather belt, he tied a cord around his waist and went forth with great joy.
Reflection: This experience of Francis presents us with two important points. First, Francis found great joy in the words of the Gospel about radical poverty because this was to be central to his vocation from God. The joy was not caused by poverty itself; rather, it was caused by him hearing God speak to him about his particular calling. God wanted radical poverty for Francis, and when Francis heard this Gospel, he heard the voice of God for his life.
Secondly, Francis also found immediate joy in poverty itself. Yes, the greatest joy came from embracing the will of God for his life. But literal poverty also brings with it much freedom and joy. This is not easily understood. Most people have dreams of wealth and believe that material wealth brings with it greater joy. But Francis’s life is a testimony to the opposite. The truth is that joy is found in God and God alone. Radical poverty helps free oneself to go more directly to God as the source of joy.
Reflect upon these two points in your own life. Has God attempted to speak some truth to you, regarding your particular vocation, to which you have not yet fully responded? If so, know that there is great joy in saying “Yes” to God, no matter what He asks. Also, have you allowed the lies of worldly wealth to distract you from God? What do you desire more: wealth or a close relationship with God? Which do you think about more? Reexamine your desires in the light of Saint Francis and let him inspire you to learn from his example.
Saint Francis, you said “Yes” to God as soon as you heard Him speak to you, calling you to radical poverty. Pray for me, that I may also be open to the voice of God in my life, listening to His gentle inspirations and direction for my vocation. May I also seek true poverty of spirit and seek to be detached from the lure of riches. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Lesson Twenty—Preaching Peace with Power
Lesson: As Francis began to live in radical poverty in response to God’s call, he became a new creation in Christ. Little by little, he found himself preaching in various settings and having a profound effect on the lives of those who were drawn to him. He preached with his words, but his holy life and wholehearted embrace of poverty added power to his sermons.
Most importantly, people experienced a deep sense of peace from Francis. Francis also discovered great peace in his life and, as a result, always began his sermons with the greeting, “May the Lord give you His peace.” When he spoke those words, and then continued with his preaching, it became evident that his words were effective, and the Lord did bestow His peace to others through Francis.
Reflection: A person who is naturally gifted in speaking can give a nice speech that keeps the attention of many and can communicate a clear message. But Francis did so much more. His sermons were backed by the power and peace of the Holy Spirit. When Francis spoke, God was speaking through him. True conversion rarely takes place because someone is a good orator. But when one preaches through the witness of their authentic life of holiness, God communicates a powerful message that has the power to truly change lives.
Reflect upon your own “sermons” in life. When you speak of good and holy things to others, do you speak from your own life of holiness? Or do you speak of that which you fail to practice? Pray that God will use you in powerful ways to change many lives. But realize this will only be possible if you first embrace your radical call to holiness. Francis discovered this call through poverty and abandonment of all worldly riches. In that calling, he discovered the riches of a life lived in Christ. And it was from that foundation that his words had incredible power in the lives of many.
Saint Francis, you truly practiced what you preached, and you preached with the backing of your life of radical surrender to God. You chose the riches of Heaven over the passing wealth of this world. Pray for me, that I may discover my path to true holiness so that from that life of holiness, I can be open to being used by God in the ways in which He so desires to use me. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Lesson Twenty-one—Francis’s First Followers
Lesson: As Francis went forth preaching, he began to attract followers. Though many were changed by his words, a few heard God calling them to join Francis in his vocation. Among the first followers of this man of deep peace was Bernard.
Bernard desired deeply to follow Francis in the way of perfection and expressed willingness to do whatever God wanted of him. Francis had the idea that in the morning they would go into the nearby church and open the Scriptures three times to seek the wisdom of God for their lives because of their shared desire to serve God radically. The first time they opened the Scriptures they read, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21). The second time, they opened to the passage, “Take nothing for the journey” (Luke 9:3). And the third time they opened the Scripture they read, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
Upon this threefold confirmation of their vocation, these holy men vowed to live these Scriptures as their rule of life. Soon afterward, several others joined them in their new vocation.
Reflection: The Word of God is powerful, indeed. Francis, Bernard, and their first companions heard God speak to them through the Gospels. However, God also spoke to each of them interiorly, regarding the unique way they were to live out these Scripture passages. Theirs were to be not only a poverty of spirit but also a literal adherence to the Word of God.
The Scriptures are powerful because they are God’s Living Word. When we read them prayerfully and with complete openness, God will manifest Himself to us as the Living Word. His Word will be effective in our lives and will provide all we need to follow Him to the perfect degree. On our part, we must be ready and willing to listen, understand, and obey all that He speaks.
Reflect, today, upon how often you use the Scriptures for the direction of your life. It’s easy to turn to many other opinions in the world on what we should believe and how we should live. But there is nothing more powerful and transforming than the Living Word of God, made manifest to us through the reading of Scripture. Jesus Himself will speak to us if we but listen. How well do you listen and obey?
Saint Francis, you and Brother Bernard were deeply desirous of hearing God’s voice. As you sought out His voice in the Scriptures, you listened, understood, and obeyed all that He spoke. Pray for me, that I also may be open to the Word of God and may be ready and willing to respond to Him when He speaks. May I reverence the Holy Scriptures, as you did, and allow this Living Word to be the solid foundation of my life. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Lesson Twenty-two—The Golden Cross and the Ends of the Earth
Lesson: When Bernard joined Francis in his vocation, Bernard began to distribute all of his wealth to those in need. As Francis assisted Bernard in the distribution of his wealth, he was approached by a certain priest from Assisi named Sylvester. Sylvester had earlier sold stones to Francis to help rebuild the church of San Damiano but had never received full payment for them. Therefore, Sylvester, upon seeing Francis and Bernard freely distributing so much wealth to the poor, approached Francis and reminded him he still owed him money for the stones. Francis scolded Sylvester for his greed but took a handful of money from Bernard’s pocket and gave it to Sylvester to pay back the debt.
Sylvester later regretted his greed as he reflected upon the radical poverty Francis and Bernard were embracing and felt ashamed. Shortly afterward, Sylvester had a dream three times in which he saw a large golden cross coming forth from the mouth of Francis, reaching Heaven, and extending from one end of the Earth to the other.
Sylvester shared this vision with Francis who understood it to mean that God would use him and his newfound order to preach the Cross of Christ to the ends of the Earth. This was a vision portraying the great growth of the order and the powerful effect it would have on the salvation of so many. Sylvester, being deeply moved by the radical commitment of Francis, joined his new order and lived out his days as a truly holy man of God.
Reflection: Francis did not have the ambition of founding an order that would evangelize the entire world, but that is what God desired. Francis was faithful to God in every small way, and he adhered strictly to the details of the vocation he was given. His willing distribution of all wealth, such as the wealth of Bernard, was done out of obedience to the will of God. His radical embrace of this Gospel exhortation ultimately inspired the priest Sylvester and many other followers. This army of Franciscans has faithfully shared the Gospel throughout the world, and the Franciscans continue this mission today. In our own lives, we do not have to develop plans of grandeur for God; we only need to be faithful in the ways in which God calls us to live out our vocation in fidelity to His holy Word.
Reflect, today, upon the importance of being faithful to the small details of God’s will. Perhaps you are called to be generous with your own money. Perhaps you are to be generous with your time or with a listening ear to one in need. Perhaps you are called to a more regular life of daily prayer. To whatever God is calling you to in life, know that it is part of His glorious plan for the salvation of the world. Embrace the will of God in every small way and God will use your sacrifice to continue to bring the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.
Saint Francis, you were called to the daily duty of loving God and others through radical poverty. God took your daily offering and raised a great army of missionaries who went forth to preach throughout the world. Pray for me, that I may also be obedient to the will of God radically and totally. May God use my life to bring forth His Kingdom in the way He so desires. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Lesson Twenty-three—The First Rule is Approved
Lesson: Slowly, the Franciscan order began to grow. Now numbering twelve followers, Francis began to write his first rule of life, relying mostly upon the Sacred Scripture. He believed that this new form of religious life was a calling given to him by revelation from God. It was a strict adherence to the Gospel passages that he and his first two brothers were given when they opened the Gospels three times. When he finished writing his first rule, he and his followers went to Rome to gain the approval of the Holy Father. Though this was a daunting task, Francis was inspired by a vision that confirmed to him that the Holy Father would approve of their rule of life.
When they arrived at the Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father, Pope Innocent III, saw Francis from a distance and was repulsed by him in his poverty. Francis, in his humility, departed without saying a word. However, that night the Holy Father had a dream of a large palm tree and, by divine inspiration, understood that this tree that arose before him represented that poor beggar he had encountered that day. Therefore, upon waking, Pope Innocent had his servants search the city for Francis and bring him to him.
When Francis was received by the Holy Father and presented his rule of life for himself and his companions, some of the cardinals present objected, stating that the rule was too rigorous and could not be followed. One bishop, however, spoke favorably of Francis and argued that the rule was nothing other than the Holy Gospels. Therefore, to reject the rule was to reject the Gospel of Christ.
The Holy Father had another audience with Francis during which Francis told him a parable of a poor woman who married a king, bearing him several children. Francis explained that the king would never allow his children to enter into destitution simply because their mother came from poverty. So it was with Francis and his followers. They considered their life of radical poverty to be their mother. Therefore, God, the great King, would never abandon them even though their “mother” was mother poverty.
Strengthened and inspired by yet another vision, the Holy Father approved the rule and exhorted Francis and his companions to go forth preaching penance and the Word of God, encouraging people to live a better Christian life. Because of this exhortation to preach as a layman, Francis and his brothers began their new mission with much zeal.
Reflection: From a worldly perspective, this was a daunting task for Francis. He was a simple man, rejected by his family and scoffed at by his townsfolk. He chose to live a new and radical life of poverty and love of God, and many failed to support him in his new vocation. Now, he had to go to Rome to get the approval of the Vicar of Christ for his new vocation.
But Francis went forth with courage. The affirmation of twelve new followers added credence to his calling and added courage to his convictions. He was inspired by God through prayer and responded to God’s will by trusting that he would receive the blessing of the pope for his new life.
Though initially rejected, God worked a miracle of grace in the heart of the Holy Father, inspiring him to support Francis and his companions. In the end, Francis received more than he had hoped. He had only hoped to receive permission to live the Gospel in radical form, but the Holy Father also exhorted him and his companions to go forth and preach.
God’s calling in our lives always requires courage. Obstacles will inevitably arise, and challenges will ultimately have to be faced. Courage is needed to strengthen us to move forward with God’s will. If we say “Yes,” God will open the door as His will unfolds before our eyes.
Reflect, today, upon the need for spiritual courage in your life. Spiritual courage is not the same as self-confidence. It’s confidence in the will of God. Reflect upon any way that you fear fulfilling the will of God in your life, and overcome that fear with the courage that comes from confidence in God.
Saint Francis, you did what God inspired you to do, even though it took great courage and confidence in God. Pray for me, that as I face the challenges that come from following the Gospel, I will do so with the strength and resolve that come from the heart of God. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Lesson Twenty-four—The Providence of God
Lesson: After Francis and his companions received the Holy Father’s approval of their rule, as well as an exhortation to go forth and preach, they traveled to Spoleto. On the way, they discussed carefully how best they could live out their rule in fidelity and trust. They especially discussed their mission of living in poverty and relying upon the providence of God.
Their conversation was so intense that they lost track of time and suddenly found themselves exhausted and in a deserted place, without any food to eat. Miraculously, there suddenly appeared before them a man they did not know with a loaf of bread for them. Once they received the bread, the man vanished. Francis and his companions rejoiced at the miraculous providence of God and took this as a clear sign that if they but lived their rule of radical poverty, the providence of God would always be with them.
Reflection: From a purely human perspective, radical poverty brought with it grave danger. What if Francis and his companions were without the basic necessities of life for weeks or even months? What if they starved or were without shelter? These questions and concerns are real when one acts carelessly and irresponsibly. But this was not the case with Francis and his companions.
God had invited this group of twelve men to become living witnesses to His providence. God called them to poverty and promised to provide for their needs. These men trusted in God’s promise and embraced His will. As a sign of His fidelity, God offered them this miracle at the very beginning to solidify their faith and confirm their vocation.
God did not send an angel day after day to provide for the needs of Francis and his companions. But he did so this initial time to help dispel any doubt that could have arisen in the minds of Francis’s first companions as they embarked on this new mission of relying completely on divine providence.
In our own lives, we must never doubt the clear voice and the will of God when He calls us to follow Him. No matter how “radical” or “extreme” God’s will might seem to be, if we know it to be His will, we must shed any fear of embracing all that He reveals.
Reflect, today, upon any aspect of God’s will in your life that requires tremendous trust in God’s providence. His providence is real and is assured. Relying upon Him in all things is freeing and glorious. Put your eyes upon God’s providence, and you will never be lacking in life.
Saint Francis, God called you, you followed, and God remained faithful to you and your companions. Pray for me, that I will never doubt God’s fidelity and will always trust in His perfect providence. May I be free from the many worries and anxieties of life as I put my trust in God alone. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.