Lesson Thirteen—Facing His Father
Lesson: Though the priest of San Damiano would not receive the money that Francis had brought, he did receive Francis, giving him refuge in his church and allowing him to remain there in prayer and to work with his hands to rebuild the physical structure of the church.
In time, Francis’s father heard that Francis was at San Damiano and was filled with fury. First and foremost, his father was angry that Francis had taken the cloth and sold it, along with the horse he rode. His father wanted the money back.
Francis was initially overcome with fear and hid in a secret place in the church for weeks. He scarcely came out even to eat. But as Francis remained hidden and in seclusion, he was also vigilant in prayer and continually sought the grace of God to overcome that fear. As time went on, Francis began to allow joy to replace fear. He continually pondered the Beatitude, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
Finally, joy overshadowed the fear Francis had of his father, and he left his hiding place to return to the town of Assisi. In the meantime, the townspeople had come to know of Francis’s conversion and ridiculed him. Some even threw rocks and mud at him. Francis ignored them and continued with much joy.
When his father found out that Francis was in town, he ran to meet him and fiercely ridiculed him, abused him, and seized him. In those days, a father had a right to imprison a wayward son, and that is what he did. He locked Francis in his room with chains and refused to let him out until Francis gave up this new direction of his life.
Reflection: Again, Francis faced his fears and overcame them with the joy that comes from embracing the Cross of Christ. He had to face his father, and he had to stay true to the calling God had given him. He could not allow fear to keep him hidden and alone.
Very often, when we face certain fears in our lives, we will be met with strong opposition. But if we remain in prayer, we will face those persecutions with faith and joy.
It was God’s will that Francis endured this persecution from his father and that he became victorious over this suffering. The battle for glory and honor was now an interior one, and the glory and honor Francis won was one of fidelity to the Cross.
Reflect, today, upon the Beatitude Francis embraced: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). In what ways have you endured ridicule for the sake of Christ? In what ways have you shied away from that ridicule, allowing fear to direct your actions? Ponder the truth of that Beatitude and allow the grace of God to strengthen you just as it did Saint Francis.
Saint Francis, the persecution imposed upon you by your father initially led you to hide in fear. It was grace and prayer that ultimately freed you from that fear and led you to the joyful embrace of imprisonment and abuse. Exteriorly, you were in chains, but interiorly you were truly free. Pray for me, that I may allow every persecution I face to lead to interior freedom and trust in God. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Lesson Fourteen—Francis Escapes
Lesson: Many days after locking his son in chains, Francis’s father needed to go on a journey to take care of his merchant business. During this time, Francis’s mother tried to privately and tenderly persuade her son to turn from his new way of living. She soon discovered that she could not persuade him, and she knew that her husband would never relent. Therefore, she set Francis free and sent him on his way.
Francis, now strengthened interiorly by the suffering he had endured at the hands of his father, returned to the church of San Damiano to continue his life of prayer and conversion and to rebuild the Church as God directed him.
When Francis’s father returned from his trip and discovered that his wife had freed Francis, he was outraged and severely rebuked his wife. He then went out in search of Francis with much fury and determination. But when he saw that Francis had no fear of him and had no intention of changing his ways, his father was determined to gain back the money Francis obtained from the selling of the cloth and horse in Foligno. The money was still sitting on the dirty windowsill and Francis happily returned the money to his father. This appeased his father somewhat and began to bring about a final resolution to their differences.
Reflection: After suffering his imprisonment by his father, Francis was renewed in spirit. This might have been completely unexpected by his father. The goal of locking Francis in the house and abusing him was to force him to change. He did change, but not in the way his father had hoped.
Too often, when one suffers at the hands of another, the result is bitterness, anger, and fear. In Francis’s case, the opposite happened. Francis endured this Cross with joy and peace, and the result was that he became increasingly free of the anger, bitterness, and fear that could have consumed him.
God often permits suffering in our lives because He knows that much good fruit can result from it. He invites us to grow in virtue and lavishes us with grace when we respond to persecution with trust and charity.
Reflect, today, upon the opportunities you currently have to rejoice amid every persecution. Some persecutions are more general, affecting the entire Church. The world, the media, and, at times, even the government can inflict harm upon the Church as a whole. As individual members of the Church, we must learn to rejoice amid every injustice. Other persecutions are very specific and focused on us. Perhaps you are misjudged, defamed, treated poorly at work or home, or suffer any other number of personal attacks. Allow the witness of Saint Francis to encourage you and inspire you to find joy in all things, even persecution.
Saint Francis, your escape from the wrath of your father came physically from the compassion of your mother. Interiorly, however, your “escape” came from your joy and by overcoming all fear. Pray for me, that I may never allow fear to hold me captive so that I can walk through life with great freedom and joy. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Lesson Fifteen—Renouncing His Family and Inheritance
Lesson: After Francis’s father obtained the money he so eagerly desired, he dragged Francis before the Bishop of Assisi. In those days, when a person publicly declared themselves to be a servant of the Church, then the civil authorities no longer had authority over them. Such was the case of Francis. He had chosen Christ and a vocation of service in the Church, and for that reason, his father brought him before the bishop for his judgment.
In front of the bishop’s residence, Francis’s father asked the bishop to approve a sort of “divorce” between Francis and his family. His father was concerned that Francis would one day receive the inheritance of the family business and money and would “squander” it on the poor and infirm. Therefore, the only solution was to require that Francis renounce his inheritance by renouncing his family and all rights he had to the family wealth. The bishop was to officiate over this separation.
Francis did not hesitate to agree. Francis took off all his clothing and placed it at the feet of his father along with all he possessed. He publicly and irrevocably renounced his inheritance and his father in accord with his father’s wishes. He said, “From now on, I will no longer say, ‘my father.’ Instead, I will only say, ‘Our Father in Heaven.’” With that, the bishop clothed Francis in his tunic and brought him under the full protection of the Church.
Reflection: Ideally, one should not have to renounce their father on earth to serve the Father in Heaven. Sadly, this was necessary in Francis’s case. Though there would certainly have been a natural sorrow at the loss of his earthly father, the joy flowing from his unwavering obedience to the Father in Heaven more than sufficed.
Francis was now free of all earthly ties and was free to do the only thing he desired: to serve the will of God in the way that God was calling him to serve. This was no small decision and had many consequences on a natural level. From a worldly point of view, Francis was all alone. But from the divine point of view, Francis was now given over to Christ and the service of the Church. The bishop, being a man of great courage and wisdom, received Francis in the name of Christ and the Church, and, in so doing, he confirmed the vocation Francis was being given by God.
Reflect, today, on how far you are willing to go to serve the will of God. Most people will receive the loving support of their closest family members as they serve God, but some will even have to sever the ties that attempt to hold them back. Commit yourself to serving God with all your might, and do not hesitate to let go of anything that hinders the fulfillment of His perfect will.
Saint Francis, the sorrow and pain that your father inflicted upon you led to his complete rejection of you. You did not give in to the manipulation of such an act but accepted it with confidence and peace. You turned your eyes to your Father in Heaven and placed all your hope in Him. Pray for me, that I will never hesitate to do all that is necessary for the fulfillment of the will of God. May I follow your radical example of total detachment and trust. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Lesson Sixteen—Robbed and Rejected
Lesson: Now that Francis was free of all earthly attachments, he began wandering from town to town in search of the will of God. On his journey, two robbers attacked him and asked him who he was. Francis replied that he was the troubadour of a great King! With that, the robbers beat him and threw him into a ditch full of snow.
Cold and wearied by the journey, Francis arrived at a secluded monastery of monks and begged for alms. Not knowing who he was, the monks took him in for a few days and gave him some broth to drink. However, before long it was clear that Francis was not welcome, and so he moved on to the town of Gubbio where a former acquaintance took him in and gave him an old tunic.
Reflection: One could easily conclude that given all Francis had endured thus far and given how completely he gave himself over to the will of God, God would take care of him and ease every one of his burdens. Instead, after renouncing all in his life for the love of God, God allowed Francis to be robbed, beaten, and later rejected by a group of holy monks.
Very often in life, we can falsely conclude that if we say “Yes” to God, all will go well and easily for us. Does God pave our path with roses? Making all things easy? He does indeed! But not in the way that you might initially expect.
When we choose God above all things and begin to radically walk down the road He leads us, we can be certain that every interior grace we need to live in freedom and joy will be given to us. In that sense, God makes our path easy. But often, God increases that grace in our lives by allowing challenges to continue to befall us. This is so that He can continue to perfect His grace within us. Therefore, it should be no surprise that after Francis renounced everything for the love of God, he still encountered ongoing sufferings and abuses by the permissive will of God. God did not cause these sufferings, but He permitted them to befall Francis to perfect His grace in him.
Consider Jesus. Scripture says that Jesus was perfected in his human nature through suffering (see Hebrews 5:8-9). It’s not that Jesus lacked any perfection; rather, the sufferings He endured allowed the many virtues He had to be manifested in His human nature. So it was in Francis. Although Francis was not perfect like the Son of God, he was steadily growing in perfection, and God allowed ongoing suffering to manifest the virtues he was obtaining.
Reflect, today, upon your expectations of God. Do you expect God to make your life easy and free of all struggles? Or do you understand that God wants to perfect your character and grow your virtues and, as a result, will allow challenges, at times, to continue far longer than you initially hoped? Seek to follow the example of Saint Francis, and never waiver from your fidelity to growing in the perfection of every virtue.
Saint Francis, after you radically renounced all worldly attachments for the love of God, you continued to endure persecution and rejection. But amid these sufferings, God was bringing to perfection His manifest grace and virtue in your soul. Pray for me, that I may be able to persevere through all things and continue to grow in perfection every day. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Lesson Seventeen—A Miracle of Miracles
Lesson: Despite the many difficulties that Francis endured after giving himself completely to the service of God, his virtue and love continued to grow. He especially grew in love for the lepers. In the past, Francis could hardly look at lepers from a distance, but now he found himself loving and serving them with the most tender care. He began to regularly seek out lepers, wash their wounds, kiss their wounds, treat them with compassion and discover Christ Himself in each of them. In His last testament, written within a month of his death, Francis himself says of the lepers, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God Himself led me into their company and I had pity on them. When I had once become acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became a source of spiritual and physical consolation for me.”
One day Francis came across one particular leper who was gravely deformed in the mouth. This leper, knowing Francis was a man of God, begged him for help. Francis, in his extreme humility, was so moved by the man that he not only showed compassion, but he also even kissed the man’s deformed mouth to acknowledge his innate dignity. To the man’s surprise, with that kiss, his leprosy was immediately cured. The cure was physical, but the deeper cure was spiritual. Francis’s humility and love enabled this man, as well as all who were poor and ill, to encounter the love of God in the very person of Francis.
Reflection: What is the greater miracle? To heal a body or to restore one’s spirit? This latter effect of restoring the spiritual dignity of the poor and ill, was Francis’s greatest gift as he sought to rebuild the Church. It was simple and profound humility, more than anything else, that won the hearts and minds of many for God.
Most of us dream of doing great things for God. Francis was no different. But Francis began to discover that humble service to the most pitiful of humanity was the greatness God was asking of him.
So it is with us. We all can act with humility in life. Humility in our dealings with others means that we see the goodness and glory of God alive in every soul. We look beyond ourselves and our insecurities, and we seek to love each person as they are, simply because they are children of God.
Today’s lepers are found in everyone who is seen as a reject of society. The hurting, the sinner, the imprisoned, the weak, the ignorant, and all whom the world looks down upon are the people for whom we must have a special love.
Reflect, today, upon the person who repulses you the most. Most likely, it is that person, more than any other, that God is calling you to reach out to in compassion and humility. Humility is difficult because it requires you to turn your eyes from yourself to another. But if you can do just that, God will work miracles through you, bringing health and healing to those in need.
Saint Francis, you were able to overcome that which was repulsive to you and to love each person with care and compassion. You treated the lepers with great kindness, and as you did, God worked miracles through you. Pray for me, that I may be a source of the spiritual miracle God wants to work. These might not be so much physical healings, but rather, the transformation of others into the people they are called to become. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Lesson Eighteen—The Final Foundation
Lesson: Francis’s conversion had been radical. Though much lay ahead of him, God was almost ready to send Francis into the world to form a great army of knights for the King of Kings. First, however, the foundation of Francis’s conversion needed to be completed. Starting in the summer of 1206, about six months after Francis’s ordeal with his father, Francis returned to Assisi to begin the physical repair of three churches: San Damiano, San Pietro della Spina, and Our Lady of the Angels “Portiuncula.”
Beginning with San Damiano, Francis grew even deeper in humility as he walked the streets of Assisi to beg the citizens for stones to rebuild the church. Francis labored continuously and slowly won the esteem of some of his fellow citizens who helped with his project.
After San Damiano, Francis began to repair the church of San Pietro, which was in ruins and abandoned. When that project was complete, he worked on the final foundational project of repairing a small, dilapidated church named after Our Lady.
The church of Our Lady of the Angels was close to Francis’s heart since he had a deep love for the Mother of God. This was his gift of love to her, and he worked diligently on it with the help of his fellow citizens. His humility continued to win the support of many, now that things between Francis and his father had been resolved. Little did Francis know that this final church, Our Lady of the Angels, would become the first home for Saint Clare and her sisters as they embraced their calling of a new life of prayer and poverty as the “Poor Clares.”
Reflection: God knew what He was doing. Francis remained faithful, day in and day out. He endured many hardships, grew in character and holiness, and began to inspire followers through his humility.
Many “religious” people want to be an inspiration to others. But many of those who desire this goal fail to allow God to build the foundation of their lives first. Francis was faithful and so was God. Through his radical abandonment of all things and his continued fidelity to the day-to-day work of God, Francis was formed by God into such a great humble servant that countless lives would soon be saved through him.
Reflect, today, upon the foundation of your spiritual life. God perfected this foundation in Francis through his work of building these churches and, especially, through his daily prayer while rebuilding the church of Our Lady of the Angels. Reflect upon your spiritual foundation. How does God still want to form you? What hidden virtues still need to come to perfection in you? Do not delay in building the foundation so that God can complete His glorious work through you.
Saint Francis, you did not know what God had in store for you in the future. But your trust in Him, day after day, formed you into a man of great virtue. Through your humility, more than any other virtue, God turned you into a source of inspiration for the multitudes. Pray for me, that I may fulfill my daily duty so that God can strengthen the foundation of my life and send me forth on the ultimate mission of rebuilding His glorious Church. Saint Francis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.