In this section you will find some important texts that may help you understand better the life of Saint Francis and his order, they will also conjure up the special spirituality the Friars experience every day in the Holy Land.
It is through a number of literary texts, written by people who knew him personally, that we know the life of Saint Francis.
Rather than simply historical references we should consider them as "living stones" that make up the frame within which a great religious movement has been following its Master's precepts and examples.
You can find here some of the texts!
- How the first friars were welcomed in the Order
- The brothers are a gift of the Lord
- Francis makes a vocational discernment
- The dream at Spoleto
- Francis has a last feast with his friends
- Francis encounters a leper
- The encounter with the Crucifix of San Damiano
- Francis in front of the bishop of Assisi
- The vocation of Bernard of Quintavalle
- The vocation of Sylvester
- The vocation of St. Clare of Assisi
Later Rule of the Friars Minor (LR 2,1-3.5-6: FAED I, 100)
"If there are any who wish to accept this life and come to our brothers, let them send them to their provincial ministers, to whom alone and not to others is permission granted to receive the brothers. Let the ministers examine them carefully concerning the Catholic faith and the sacraments of the Church. If they believe all these things, will faithfully profess them, and steadfastly observe them to the end; […] let the ministers speak to them the words of the holy Gospel that they go and sell all they have and take care to give it to the poor. If they cannot do this, their good will may suffice."
Testament of St. Francis (Test 14-23: FAED I, 125-126)
And after the Lord gave me some brothers, no one showed me what I had to do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the pattern of the Holy Gospel. And I had this written down simply and in a few words and the Lord Pope confirmed it for me. And those who came to receive life gave whatever they had to the poor and were content with one tunic, patched inside and out, with a cord and short trousers. We desired nothing more. We clerical brothers said the Office as other clerics did; the lay brothers said the Our Father; and we quite willingly remained in churches. And we were simple and subject to all.
And I worked with my hands, and I still desired to work; and I earnestly desire all brothers to give themselves to honest work. Let those who do not know how to work learn, not from desire to receive wages, but for example and to avoid idleness. And when we are not paid for our work, let us have recourse to the table of the Lord, begging alms from door to door. The Lord revealed a greeting to me that we should say: “May the Lord give you peace.”
Dalla Vita Prima di San Francesco di fra Tommaso da Celano (1C 6-7: FF 329-330)
"Vi era ad Assisi un giovane, che Francesco amava più degli altri. Poiché era suo coetaneo e l’amicizia pienamente condivisa lo invitava a confidargli i suoi segreti, Francesco lo portava con sé in posto adatti al raccoglimento dello spirito, rivelandogli di aver scoperto un tesoro grande e prezioso. L’amico, esultante e incuriosito, accettava sempre volentieri l’invito di accompagnarlo.
Alla periferia della città c’era una grotta, in cui essi andavano sovente, parlando del “tesoro”. L’uomo di Dio, già santo per desiderio di esserlo, vi entrava, lasciando fuori il compagno ad attendere, e, pieno di nuovo insolito fervore, pregava il Padre suo in segreto. Desiderava che nessuno sapesse quanto accadeva in lui là dentro; e, celando saggiamente a fin di bene in meglio, solo a Dio affidava i suoi santi propositi. Supplicava devotamente Dio eterno e vero di manifestargli la sua vita e di insegnargli a realizzare il suo volere. Si svolgeva in lui una lotta personale, né poteva darsi pace, finché non avesse compiuto ciò che aveva deliberato. Mille pensieri l’assalivano senza tregua e la loro insistenza lo gettava nel turbamento e nella sofferenza.
Bruciava interiormente di fuoco divino, e non riusciva a dissimulare il fervore della sua anima. Deplorava i suoi gravi peccati, le offese fatte agli occhi della maestà divina. Le vanità del passato o del presente non avevano per lui più nessuna attrattiva, ma non si sentiva ancora completamente sicuro di saper resistere a quelle future. Si comprende perciò come, facendo ritorno al suo compagno, fosse tanto spossato da apparire irriconoscibile.
Un giorno finalmente, dopo aver implorato con tutto il cuore la misericordia divina, gli fu rivelato dal Signore come doveva comportarsi. E da allora fu ripieno di tanto gaudio che, non riuscendo a contentarsi per la gioia, lasciava, pur non volendo, trasparire qualcosa agli uomini."
The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul by Thomas of Celano (2C 6: FAED II, 245)
A little later, he saw in a vision a beautiful palace, and there he saw various suits of armor and a lovely bride. In that same dream Francis was called by name and was attracted by the promise of all these things. He therefore tried to go to Apulia in order to gain knighthood, and richly outfitted, he hastened to achieve the honors of knightly rank. The spirit of the flesh prompted him to give an interpretation of the flesh to the vision. In fact, in the treasury of God’s wisdom something even more magnificent was hidden there.
As he slept one night, someone spoke to him a second time in a vision and asked him with concern where he was going. He explained his plan and said he was going to Apulia to become a knight. The other questioned him anxiously: “Who can do more for you, the servant or the Lord?” “The Lord,” said Francis. “They why do you seek the servant instead of the Lord?” Francis then asked: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” And the Lord said to him: “Go back to the land of your birth because I will fulfill your dream in a spiritual way.” He turned back without delay becoming even now a model of obedience.
Legend of the Three Companions (L3C 7: FAED II, 71-72)
A few days after he returned to Assisi, one evening his friends chose him to be in charge so that, according to his whim, he would pay their expenses. He made arrangements for a sumptuous banquet, as he has done so often in the past.
When they left the house bloated, his friends, walked ahead of him, singing throughout the city. Holding in his hand the scepter of his office as their leader, he fell slightly behind them. He was not singing, but was deeply preoccupied. Suddenly he was visited by the Lord who filled his heart with so much tenderness that he was unable to speak or move. He could only feel and hear this marvelous tenderness; it left him so estranged from any sensation that, as he himself said later, even if he had been completely cut to pieces, he would not have been able to move.
When his companions glanced back and saw him so removed from them, they went back surprised at seeing him already changed into another man. They asked him: “What were you thinking about that you did not follow us? Were you perhaps thinking about taking a wife?”
He answered in an unequivocal voice: “You are right! I was thinking about taking a wife more noble, wealthier, and more beautiful than you have ever seen.” They laughed at him. For he said this not of his own accord, but because he was inspired by God. In fact, the bride was the true religion that he later embraced, a bride more noble, richer and more beautiful because of her poverty.
Legend of the Three Companions (L3C 11: FAED II, 74)
One day, while he was praying enthusiastically to the Lord, Francis received this response: “Francis, everything you loved carnally and desired to have, you must despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. Because once you begin doing this, what before seemed delightful and sweet will be unbearable and bitter; and what before made you shudder will offer you great sweetness and enormous delight.”
He was overjoyed at this and was comforted by the Lord. One day he was riding his horse near Assisi, when he met a leper. And, even though he usually shuddered at lepers, he made himself dismount, and gave him a coin, kissing his hand as he did so. After he accepted a kiss of peace from him, Francis remounted and continued on his way. He then began to consider himself less and less, until, by God’s grace, he came to complete victory over himself.
After a few days, he moved to a hospice of lepers, taking with him a large sum of money. Calling them all together, as he kissed the hand of each, he gave them alms. When he left there, what before had been bitter, that is, to see and touch lepers, was turned into sweetness. For, as he said, the sight of lepers was so bitter to him, that he refused not only to look at them, but even to approach their dwellings. If he happened to come near their houses or to see them, even though he was moved by piety to give them alms through an intermediary, he always turned away his face and held his nose. With the help of God’s grace, he became such a servant and friend of the lepers, that, as he testified in his Testament, he stayed among them and served them with humility.
The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul (2C 10: FAED II, 249)
With his heart already completely changed – soon his body was also to be changed – he was walking one day by the church of San Damiano, which was abandoned by everyone and almost in ruins. Led by the Spirit he went in to pray and knelt down devoutly before the crucifix. He was shaken by unusual experiences and discovered that he was different from when he had entered. As soon as he had this feeling, there occurred something unheard of in previous ages: with the lips of the painting, the image of Christ crucified spoke to him. “Francis,” it said, calling him by name: “go rebuild My house; as you see, it is all being destroyed.” Francis was more than a little stunned, trembling, and stuttering like a man out of his senses. He prepared himself to obey and pulled himself together to carry out the command. He felt this mysterious change in himself, but could not describe it. So it is better for us to remain silent about it too. From that time on, compassion for the Crucified was impressed into his holy soul. And we honestly believe the wounds of the sacred Passion were impressed deep in his heart, though not yet on his flesh.
Legend of the Three Companions (L3C 19-20: FAED II, 79-80)
Realizing that he could accomplish nothing with the magistrates, Pietro di Bernardone made the same complaint before the bishop of the city. The bishop, a discerning and understanding man, duly called him to appear in order to respond to his father’s complaint. Francis answered the messenger: “I will appear before the lord bishop, because he is the father and lord of souls.”
Then he came before the bishop and was received by him with great joy. “Your father,” the bishop said to him, “is infuriated and extremely scandalized. If you wish to serve God, return to him the money you have, because God does not want you to spend money unjustly acquired on the work of the church. Your father’s anger will abate when he gets the money back. My son, have confidence in the Lord and act courageously. Do not be afraid, for He will be your help and will abundantly provide you with whatever is necessary for the work of his church.”
Then the man of God got up, joyful and comforted by the bishop’s words, and, as he brought the money to him, he said: “My Lord, I will gladly give back not only the money acquired from his things, but even all my clothes.” And going into one of the bishop’s rooms, he took off all his clothes, and, putting the money on top of them, came out naked before the bishop, his father, and all the bystanders, and said: “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Until now I have called Pietro di Bernardone my father. But, because I have proposed to serve God, I return to him the money on account of which he was so upset, and also all the clothing which is his, wanting to say from now on: Our Father who are in heaven, and not, ‘My father, Pietro di Bernardone.’” At that moment, the man of God was found to be wearing under his colored clothes a hair shirt next to his skin.
Then his father, overcome with unbearable pain and anger, took the money and all the clothing. While he was carrying these home, those who were present at this spectacle were indignant at him, for he left nothing for his son to wear. Moved by piety, they began to weep over him.
The bishop, focusing his attention on the man of God’s frame of mind and enthusiastically admiring his fervor and determination, gathered him into his arms, covering him with his mantle.
The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul (2C 15: FAED II, 253-254)
Bernard from the town of Assisi, who later became a son of perfection, planned to reject the world perfectly, thanks to the example of the man of God. He humbly sought advice: “Father, if someone had held a certain lord’s possessions for a long time, and no longer wishes to keep them, what would be the best thing to do?” The man of God replied that all those things should be returned to the lord who gave them. Bernard said to him: “I know that everything I have was given to me by God and on your advice I am now ready to return all to Him.” The saint replied: “If you want to prove your words with deeds, let us go into the church tomorrow at dawn, take up the Gospel Book, and seek the counsel of Christ.” When morning had broken they went into the church and, after preparing with a devout prayer, they opened the book of the Gospel, ready to act on whatever counsel should first come to them. When they opened the book, Christ openly gave them His counsel: If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all you own, and give it to the poor (Mt 19:21).
They repeated this a second time, and found: Take nothing for your journey (Lk 9:3). They tried a third time, and found: If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself (Lk 9:23). Bernard immediately carried out all these things, without neglecting a single iota of this counsel. In a short time, many turned away from the weary cares of the world toward an infinite Good, returning to their homeland with Francis as their guide.
Legend of the Three Companions (L3C 30-31: FAED II, 86-87)
While Lord Bernard was giving all his possessions to the poor, blessed Francis was at his side assisting him, glorifying and praising the Lord in his heart, in awe at the astounding work of the Lord. A priest named Sylvester, from whom the blessed Francis had purchased stones for the repair of the church of San Damiano, came. Seeing so much money being given away on the man of God’s advice, he was consumed by a burning passion of greed, and said to him: “Francis, you did not completely pay me for the stones which you bought from me.” The scorner of greed, hearing him complaining unjustly, approached Lord Bernard, and putting his hand into his cloak where the money was, in great fervor of spirit, filled it with a handful of coins, and gave them to the disgruntled priest. He filled his hand with money a second time, and said to him: “Do you now have full payment, Lord Priest?” “I have it completely, brother,” he replied. Overjoyed, he returned home with his money.
But after a few days that same priest, inspired by the Lord, began to reflect on these things blessed Francis had done, and he said to himself: “Am I not a miserable man? Old as I am, don’t I still covet and desire the things of this world? And this young man despises and scorns them all for the love of God!” […]
When he woke, therefore, the priest understood and resolutely believed that Francis was indeed Christ’s friend and servant, and the religion he founded would spread all over the world. From then on he began to fear God and to penance in his own home. At last, after a little while, he entered the Order in which he lived excellently and ended gloriously.
The Legend of St. Clare, Virgin (LCl 7-8: CAED 285-286)
The Solemnity of the Day of the Palms was at hand when the young girl Clare went with a fervent heart to the man of God, asking him about her conversion and how it should be carried out. The father Francis told her that on the day of the feast, she should go, dressed and adorned, together with the crowd of people, to receive a palm, and, on the following night, leaving the camp she should turn her worldly joy into mourning the Lord’s passion.
Therefore, when Sunday came, the young girl, thoroughly radiant with festive splendor among the crowd of women, entered the Church with the others. Then something occurred that was a fitting omen: as the others were going to receive the palms, while Clare remained immobile in her place out of shyness, the Bishop, coming down the steps, came to her and placed a palm in her hands. On that night, preparing to obey the command of the saint, she embarked upon her long desired flight with a virtuous companion. Since she was not content to leave by way of the usual door, marveling at her strength, she broke open with her own hands that other door that is customarily blocked by wood and stone.
And so she ran to Saint Mary of the Portiuncula, leaving behind her home, city, and relatives. There the brothers, who were observing sacred vigils before the little altar of God, received the virgin Clare with torches. There, immediately after rejecting the filth of Babylon, she gave the world a bill of divorce. There, her hair shorn by the hands of the brothers, she put aside every kind of her fine dress.
Was it not fitting that an Order of flowering virginity be awakened in the evening or in any other place than in this place of her, the first and most worthy of all, who alone is Mother and Virgin! This is the place in which a new army of the poor, under the leadership of Francis, took its joyful beginnings, so that it might be clearly seen that it was the Mother of mercies who brought to birth both Orders in her dwelling place.
In this section you will find some of the most beautiful Franciscan prayers.
These prayers will open your heart and mind, as they did for many more before you, revealing the simplicity and depth of Francis and his friends...
- Prayer in front of the Crucifix of San Damiano (FAED I,40)
- The Praises of God (FAED I,109)
- The Canticle of the Creatures (FAED I,113-114)
- Saluto alla Beata Vergine Maria (FF 259-260)
Francis used to recite this prayer already in 1205-1206, during the period of his vocational discernment, when he would visit the small abandoned church of San Damiano, where there was a Byzantine Crucifix which is nowadays venerated in the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Assisi.
Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge, Lord,
that I may carry out Your holy and true command. Amen
Francis composed this prayer of praise on Mount La Verna in September 1224, when he received the stigmata. The prayer was written on a parchment which also contains the blessing that Francis gave to brother Leo. The parchment with the autographs of Francis is conserved as a relic in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.
You are holy Lord God Who does wonderful things.
You are strong. You are great. You are the most high.
You are the almighty king. You holy Father,
King of heaven and earth.
You are three and one, the Lord God of gods;
You are the good, all good, the highest good,
Lord God living and true.
You are love, charity; You are wisdom, You are humility,
You are patience, You are beauty, You are meekness,
You are security, You are rest,
You are gladness and joy, You are our hope, You are justice,
You are moderation, You are all our riches to sufficiency.
You are beauty, You are meekness,
You are the protector, You are our custodian and defender,
You are strength, You are refreshment. You are our hope,
You are our faith, You are our charity,
You are all our sweetness, You are our eternal life:
Great and wonderful Lord, Almighty God, Merciful Savior.
Francis composed The Canticle of the Creatures, known also as The Canticle of Brother Sun, during the spring of 1225, when he was sick at San Damiano, and was cared for by Clare and the Poor Sisters. The Canticle was composed in the Umbrian dialect and contains three sections: a praise of God for the creatures (sun, moon, stars, wind, water, fire, earth), a praise for those who forgive for the love of God, and a praise for sister bodily death. Only the first section of the Canticle was composed at San Damiano, whereas the section on forgiveness was composed in the episcopal palace in Assisi where the sick Francis resided for some weeks in September 1226, and the section on sister death was composed at the Portiuncula, some time before Francis died on October 3, 1226.
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honor, and all blessing,
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no human is worthy to mention Your name.
Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.
Francis “embraced the Mother of Jesus with inexpressible love, since she made the Lord of Majesty a brother to us. He honored her with his own Praises, poured out prayers to her, and offered her his love in a way that no human tongue can express” (2C 198). This praise in honour of the Virgin is a witness of the great affection that Francis nurtured for the Mother of God.
Hail, O Lady,
Mary, holy Mother of God,
Who are the Virgin made Church,
chosen by the most Holy Father in heaven
whom he consecrated with His most holy beloved Son
and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete,
in whom there was and is
all fullness of grace and every good.
Hail His Palace!
Hail His Tabernacle!
Hail His Dwelling!
Hail His Robe!
Hail His Servant!
Hail His Mother!
And hail all You holy virtues
which are poured into the hearts of the faithful
through the grace and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit,
that from being unbelievers,
You may make them faithful to God.