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The Life of St. Francis
On Saint Francis's Manner of Life While in Secular Attire
There was a man
in the town of Assisi,
Francis by name,
whose memory is held in benediction
because God in his generosity
foreordained goodly blessings for him,
mercifully snatching him from the dangers of
the present life
and richly filling him with gifts of heavenly
As a young boy,
he lived among worldly sons of men
and was brought up in worldly ways.
a little knowledge of reading and writing,
he was assigned
to work in a lucrative merchant's business.
Yet with God's protection,
even among wanton youths,
he did not give himself over
to the drives of the flesh,
although he indulged himself in pleasures;
nor even among greedy merchants
did he place his hope in money or treasures
although he was intent
on making a profit.
God implanted in the heart of the youthful Francis a certain openhanded compassion for the poor. Growing from his infancy, this compassion had so filled his heart with generosity that even at that time he determined not to be deaf to the Gospel but to give to everyone who begged, especially if he asked "for the love of God." On one occasion when Francis was distracted by the press of business, contrary to his custom, he sent away emptyhanded a certain poor man who had begged alms for the love of God. As soon as he came to his senses, he ran after the man and gave him a generous alms, promising God that from that moment onward, while he had the means, he would never refuse those who begged from him for the love of God. He kept this promise with untiring fidelity until his death and merited an abundant increase of grace and love for God. Afterwards, when he had perfectly put on Christ, he used to say that even while he was in secular attire, he could scarcely ever hear any mention of the love of God without being deeply moved in his heart.
His gentleness, his refined manners, his patience, his superhuman affability, his generosity beyond his means, marked him as a young man of flourishing natural disposition.This seemed to be a prelude to the even greater abundance of God's blessings that would be showered on him in the future. Indeed a certain man of Assisi, an exceptionally simple fellow who, it is believed, was inspired by God, whenever he chanced to meet Francis going through the town, used to take off his cloak and spread it under his feet saying that Francis deserved every sign of respect since he was destined to do great things in the near future and would be magnificently honored by the entire body of the faithful.
Up to this time, however, Francis was ignorant of God's plan for him. He was distracted by the external affairs of his father's business and drawn down toward earthly things by the corruption of human nature. As a result, he had not yet learned how to contemplate the things of heaven nor had he acquired a taste for the things of God. Since affliction can enlighten our spiritual awareness, the hand of the Lord came upon him, and the right hand of God effected a change in him. God afflicted his body with a prolonged illness in order to prepare his soul for the anointing of the Holy Spirit. After his strength was restored, when he had dressed as usual in his fine clothes, he met a certain knight who was of noble birth, but poor and badly clothed. Moved to compassion for his poverty, Francis took off his own garments and clothed the man on the spot. At one and the same time he fulfilled the twofold duty of covering over the embarrassment of a noble knight and relieving the poverty of a poor man.
The following night, when he had fallen asleep, God in his goodness showed him a large and splendid palace full of military weapons emblazoned with the insignia of Christ's cross. Thus God vividly indicated that the compassion he had exhibited toward the poor knight for love of the supreme King would be repaid with an incomparable reward. And so when Francis asked to whom these belonged, he received an answer from heaven that all these things were for him and his knights. When he awoke in the morning, he judged the strange vision to be an indication that he would have great prosperity; for he had no experience in interpreting divine mysteries nor did he know how to pass through visible images to grasp the invisible truth beyond.Therefore, still ignorant of God's plan, he decided to join a certain count in Apulia, hoping in his service to obtain the glory of knighthood, as his vision seemed to foretell.
He set out on his journey shortly afterwards; but when he had gone as far as the next town, he heard during the night the Lord address him in a familiar way, saying: "Francis, who can do more for you, a lord or a servant, a rich man or a poor man?" When Francis replied that a lord and a rich man could do more, he was at once asked:"Why, then, are you abandoning the Lord for a servant and the rich God for a poor man?" And Francis replied: "Lord, what will you have me do?" And the Lord answered him: "Return to your own land, because the vision which you have seen foretells a spiritual outcome which will be accomplished in you not by human but by divine planning." In the morning, then, he returned in haste to Assisi, joyous and free of care; already a model of obedience, he awaited the Lord's will.Bonaventure
The Life of St. Francis. Copyright © by Frank HarperCollins Spiritual Classics. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.