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 1226 A.D. - God Marks His Man Francis

Most of us have heard of a rare but documented phenomenum called 'Stigmata'. It involves receiving some or all of the 5 wounds of Jesus upon your body in a miraculous manifestation. There is a wound in each hand, a wound on each foot, and a wound in your side. It sounds impossible, but it certainly has happened, and an Italian businessman's son was the first person known to receive these, in the 1224 A.D. time frame. He was the man we know as St. Francis of Assissi, founder of the Franciscan Orders still at work in the world today.  Some call Francis 'the Saint of Saints'.

(I should mention that the Apostle Paul might have had these marks.  There is this statemet, made by Paul, to consider.  It is from Galatians 6:17    "From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus."   He wrote this during his Roman imprisonment, in the last years of his life.  Had he just been scourged as Jesus had been, perhaps, or had the 'stigmata' come upon him?)

But concerning Francis:  he was born in 1181 A.D., he was one of 7 children, and he probably wouldn't even have been baptised if his father would have had his way. His father wasn't after a 'church man'. But his father was away on business when he was born, so mother had him baptised Giovanni de Bernadone after John the Baptist. Upon his return, the not too happy father renamed him Francis after the maternal side of his own family.

As he grew up, it was seen that he had a light happy way about him, and he liked to drink and indulge in competitions with the other rich kids in his town. But from the first he was a little more likely to give all his pocket money to the poor man that asked, etc. His friends sometimes made fun of him for this.

He didn't get along too well with his pragmatic father. They had issues. Francis decided to join the military as he was good at sword practice, and as there were a lot of small warring city-states in Italy he was soon in a battle against a neighboring town in Perugia. He was captured, and spent a year in jail in Colestrade, Italy- much of it with a low-grade fever. It was during this time that it is believed he began to look for more in his relationship with Jesus.

In 1203 he came home, but was no longer the same as his friends. Imprisonment had sobered him.  In 1204 he became seriously ill again. By 1205 he was better, and needing employment, so he travelled to join another military campaign. But he had two visions while travelling there. One was of a vast hall full of armor with the cross of Jesus on it. He was told it was for the many soldiers that would be in his army for God.

And secondly, a couple of days later he got a message in a dream to return home, so he did. Changed by these contacts with God, he began to become a man of prayer. He went on a pilgrimage to Rome, and there, at a church called the Church of San Damiano, while looking at a statue of Jesus crucified, the statue seemed to come to life, look at him, and speak. Three times it said 'Francis, Francis, go repair my house,which you see is in ruins." Shaken but excited, he took this literally to mean this very church he was at, and he went to his father's shop and got some cloth to sell, and sold a horse also, and hurriedly brought the priest of that church the money. When he explained how he obtained the money, the priest could not accept it, so Francis just tossed the gold coins at his feet in anger. When he returned, his father was furious, and beat Francis so badly that he fled to live in a nearby cave for weeks.

He eventually disavowed his father, returned everything - even the clothes he was wearing, and left. He wandered. He listened to a sermon, in which Matt 10:9 was discussed, where Jesus tells his disciples to go out with nothing and preach the good news. He felt drawn to that idea powerfully, and set that as his life's ambition, and so began his holy life in earnest. He was 25, and would die at 45, but the next 20 years of his life made a great impact on Christiandom.

His approach was to pray often and to all of creation - men, birds, animals all heard the gospel and his advice for serving God. He begged without shame for his food money, and with the rest he worked to rebuild churches that were in ruins or disrepair. His friends thought him a lunatic, and he was mocked, cursed, even beaten. But he was earnest, and as time passed it became obvious. People began to join him, giving up their posessions, walking from place to place, town to town, homeless and preaching the Gospel and doing what manual labor they could to survive, and begging for the rest.

Francis considered that since animals and men had the same father, then they were from the same family, and so they were all his brothers and sisters. And they seemed to respond as if it were true. For this reason - and his lifelong kindness to animals, and his teaching that men must be good stewards to the creatures -  Francis is the official Patron Saint of Ecology.

There is an account of birds lining trees to his right and left along a road, so he stopped and gave them a sermon on how they received many good things from their Father, so they should all be grateful and remember to praise God in song, and in their manners. It was said that his companions were greeted with the odd sight of the birds flying down to the ground near his feet to listen for the time he spoke to them.

A second famous story is of a wolf in the village of Gubbio. It was cold, and the wolf was hungry. It was rare for wolves to attack men, but in Italy it did occur during these years, as a matter of old historical record. And livestock had been killed. Francis, hearing about this, told the village that he would talk to the wolf. This was viewed as deranged, but he went into the forest, some who followed coming along behind. Francis began to call the wolf to him, and after a time it came. He told it to come near so he could talk to it. It approached and eased down in front of Francis, head on its paws. Francis explained to the wolf how he understood it was hungry, but its evil actions were causing many of the villagers to say much bad about the wolf and have hard feelings towards it. He told the wolf that it needed to stop.

He then had the wolf follow him into the village, and even told the dogs to quit barking at it, which they did. He told the villagers about the wolf's hunger, and how the wolf would quit harming them and their stock, but they must bring food to it when it visited their village so that it wouldn't be hungry in the winter. This worked well and their were no more problems. This sounds like a wives tale, of course. But I found one source which recorded that an excavation of the old church site in that village unearthed, buried among the townsfolk, a grave with a wolf in it. Who knows?   

As time went by, the number of Francis' companions grew, so Francis went to Rome to see Pope III to ask for an audience to see if an Order could be created of his following. The Pope's secretary came in mentioning the poor man who wished a bit of his time, but the Pope did not grant it. That night in his sleep, however, he had a dream of a poor man trying to support a decayed and collapsing church building. The next day he saw Francis waiting again, and recognized him from his dream. So he authorized their order, and they began to wear the friar cloth, and the Franciscan order was officially born. Francis was never ordained a priest. He just travelled, preaching repentance.

Francis was an especially moving speaker, though his sermons were very simple. But the Holy Spirit was there in great force, and many were moved to join his order, and many to strengthen their faith. He soon was sending brothers to the surrounding countries, and his movement was a great catalyst for renewed zeal for Jesus in 13th century Europe.

A young woman named Clare heard him preach, and dreamed of founding a similar organization for women. Within two years the 'Poor Clares', which survive even today, were born.

Francis's ministry was 20 years of singing, praising, and preaching while begging and walking barefoot through all weathers and terrains. But he 'counted it all as joy'.

Near the end of his life, on September 14th of 1224 A.D., during a 40 day fast on Mt. Verna, St. Francis saw a vision of a Seraph - a six winged creature from heaven - upon a cross. He was then given the stigmata, which he had all of his remaining life.

The nature of his stigmata, apparently the first in recorded history, was two-fold. There was, firstly, an open wound such as a spear would make in his side, which stayed open, though he did not apparently bleed dangerously from it. Secondly, on his feet and hands, nail heads had formed of actual darkened flesh, looking like iron nails, and the heads had been bent back on them. These were viewed closely and attested to by numerous persons during the next, and last, part of his life, and were evident on his body even after he died.

Francis soon began to go blind. He died, singing Psalm 141, ( and laying without clothing on because he wished to lay as he believed the body of Jesus had), in the year 1226 A.D., on October 3rd. Some believe he may have died from starvation from his frequent fasting.

In an era of big egos in the church world, his never failing kindness, love, and extreme humility made him an unenvied and unresented choice for sainthood. And his organization has persisted, though less austere, to this very day. In the cynical and backslid days of the 13th century church, Francis was a 'God send.' He left a church that was much restored, architecturally and in spirit.

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website