Dialogue with Br. Francesco Patton - Illness in the life of St. Francis and the Franciscan Sources

When we speak of St. Francis we immediately think of the Canticle of Creatures, the highest expression of praise and gratitude to the Creator. The life of the Saint of Assisi, known and loved throughout the world, was however also marked by suffering in his own body.

"The illness in the life of St. Francis and in the Franciscan Sources" is the theme, today very contemporary, on which Br. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, reflects.

Br FRANCESCO PATTON, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
"In 1202, when Assisi had wanted to fight against Perugia, Francis had been captured after the first and only battle and for a year he was in the Perugia prisons. During that year, Francis contracted some illnesses that would accompany him for his entire life.
Probably, even then, he contracted a form of malaria that later became chronic.
We also know that when he left for the second attempt to become a knight, when he left for Puglia, in Spoleto, he had to stop because of a fever, probably a return of malarial fever. During this moment, when he had a fever, he heard the voice of the Lord, who told him to return to Assisi, who asked him whether it was better to serve the servant or the Lord, and he returned. (3Comp 6: FF 1401)."

"It was during that illness that an inner change began to manifest itself in Francis. The tradition of the Franciscan Sources places his encounter with the leper as a point of reference in his definitive conversion".

Br FRANCESCO PATTON, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
"In the following years, more or less in 1206, there is this encounter with the leper; it is the encounter that defines him. It is not only the encounter with the leper, but it is the encounter with the lepers: when he was still in vices and sins, he remembers: "it seemed to me too bitter to even see the lepers, but when the Lord led me among them, I treated them with mercy; and what was sweet became bitter, and what was bitter became sweet".

Br FRANCESCO PATTON, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
"The experience of the encounter with the seriously ill person becomes for Francis the experience of overcoming his own fears. The fear of contagion, a bit like it happens today because of the virus: people stay away from each other. In fact, in that period he heard this inner voice telling him "until you have overcome your selfishness, until you have stopped worshipping yourself, you cannot understand the meaning of your life".
We can say that through this initial encounter with the ill, Francis discovers a new dimension of life and in fact discovers his vocation."

The biographers of St. Francis are explicit in talking about his diseases.

Br FRANCESCO PATTON, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
"They say he had stomach, liver and spleen diseases. And they were probably also related to the chronic malaria that he had, and partly related to the life of penance that he did; the many fasting he did. Probably towards the end of his life, the stomach disease, which was probably a form of ulcer, will also become a form of cancer."

The Franciscan Sources also speak of another disease that the Poor Man of Assisi contracted during his journey to the Holy Land between 1219 and 1220.

Br FRANCESCO PATTON, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
"It is a form of eye disease that practically prevents him from even keeping his eyes open at some point. A form of conjunctivitis that was typical of the Middle Eastern world, and this conjunctivitis in Francis causes two things: a continuous tearing and intolerance to light to the point of almost inability to see. So much so that, according to the biographies, a hood is prearranged for him that has a kind of mask that covers the eyes precisely to avoid contact with light. Let's think about what this means for Francis, someone who loved to see the beauty of all creatures and creation, and through the beauty of creatures and creation, to go back to the beauty and goodness of God. So it must have been a great suffering for him; and this illness, of course, accompanies him, in the last 6 years of his life and for this illness he also tries various medical solutions, various operations, under the pressure of both the Pope and Brother Elijah.
One of the most fascinating one is this operation that he has to do in Rieti with this surgeon, probably a surgeon of the papal court, who tries to cauterize, to burn the tear ducts and some parts, nerves."

Br FRANCESCO PATTON, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
"The conversation between St. Francis and the fire is touching; Francis speaks with the fire considering him not an inanimate creature, but an animated one and says to him: "look, I have always had a great respect for you, I have always loved you, please don't hurt me too much, during this operation".

Br FRANCESCO PATTON, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
"In fact, for a period, he probably also regains the ability to see, and after a while, of course, the diseases take over, and in the last two years, besides the sufferings of physical illnesses, there are also the sufferings related to the stigmata. He carries in his flesh the signs of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, nails were formed in his hands and feet and his rib was constantly bleeding."

A third consideration about the stigmata: these are chapters that can be found at the end of the foils of St. Francis. It is reported a very beautiful prayer, of St. Francis, which is said to be the prayer that he says on the very night he receives the gift of the stigmata, as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross approaches.
In this prayer, Francis asks to be able to experience in his own flesh, as far as humanly possible, the terrible suffering that Christ experienced in the hour of the Passion, but then he adds that he wants to experience as much as possible the excessive love - in the Italian of that time - that is enormous, extraordinary, exaggerated - which led Christ to endure all this suffering for our salvation; therefore, Francis does not seek and does not ask for suffering in order to suffer: he seeks and asks for love.

Br FRANCESCO PATTON, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
"In the end, Francis returns his soul to God in a context where his body had been tried for a long time and he will eventually come to apologize to his own body, saying: "Brother Donkey, I ask you for forgiveness - he called the body Brother Donkey - if I have mistreated you". In the end he reconciles with himself, with his own corporeity, before giving himself back to God, naked, on the naked earth; naked as he was born, to go towards this new birth which is the encounter with God, the entering into eternal life."

Br FRANCESCO PATTON, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
"St. Francis has some very beautiful words, in the unbilled Rule, where he dedicates a chapter also to the sick friars.
In this chapter he says things that are also worth reading:
"If any of the friars should fall sick, wherever he may be, the other friars should not leave him without first appointing a friar or more than one if necessary, let them serve him as they would like to be served themselves".

And from the Holy Land, the prayers of the Franciscan Community are incessant.

Br FRANCESCO PATTON, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
"Every day we pray for the end of the pandemic, we pray for the sick; we pray for those who care for the sick and we also pray for the authorities, both religious and civil, who always have to make difficult choices. There is not only prayer: inspired by St. Francis, the invitation to the sick is to live their illness with confidence. Even if this illness should have a terminal outcome, as I said before, we put our lives in the hands of the Father."

Br FRANCESCO PATTON, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
"Surely our prayer is everyday and it is for everyone: for the sick, for the medical staff, for those who have decision-making responsibilities and I think that the most beautiful Blessing is the one taken from the Book of Numbers, which is the Blessing used by St. Francis: may the Lord bless you, keep you, show you His face and have mercy on you; may He look upon you and give you peace."

 

 

For the works used in the video we thank:
Piero Casentini, Poor Clares of the Monastery SS. Annunziata of Terni, Franciscan Friars Minor Province San Bonaventura - Greccio (Rieti) and Frascati (Rome), Seraphic Province of St. Francis of the Friars Minor of Umbria-Sardinia Assisi (Perugia), Br. Bruno Bartolini ofm, Photographic Archives of the Sacred Convent of St. Francis in Assisi, Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of Anacapri (Naples), Seraphic Province of St. Francis of the Friars Minor of Umbria-Sardinia Assisi (Perugia), Doni Ferrari.

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