SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI

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Saint Francis Of Assisi

The official biography of Saint Francis was written by Saint

Bonaventura, who was appointed this task by the Franciscan

general chapter in 1260, thirty-four years after Saint Francis’s

death.

Saint Francis was born in the city of Assisi on September

26, 1182 and died on October 3, 1226. His father was a

prosperous merchant and his mother a noblewoman. He was

given the name John by his mother, but when his father

returned from France, he changed the name to Francis, in

honor of France, the country where he had made his wealth.

Coming from a well-to-do family, Francis had the opportunity

to study Latin, poetry, music, Italian, French, the Provencal

dialect, and literature. It seemed that Francis was destined to

follow in his father’s footsteps.

Around the age of twenty, Francis joined up with the Assisi

army and fought against the city of Perugia, but he was taken

prisoner and remained in prison for one year. The time he

spent in jail was very hard, so much so that he contracted a

serious illness when he returned home. His sickness was the

turning point in his life. He decided to radically change his

lifestyle. To that point he had lived a worldly life, but now he

chose to dedicate himself to following Jesus’s model. He began

to give money to help the lepers, the poor, and the needy.

Francis’s new life and prodigality were not appreciated by

his father, who eventually disinherited him. From then on,

Francis lived a life of poverty and absolute simplicity. Soon

other young people joined him, giving rise to the monastic

Franciscan order. His soul was so pure that he talked with

birds, and one day he even tamed a wolf. An example of the

pureness of his heart can be found in the “Canticle of the

Creatures,” which he composed in 1225.

Saint Francis’s life was short; in fact, he lived only fortyfour

years. After his death, many authors started writing his

biography. Some biographies had a hagiographic aim, while

others were straightforward accounts, but some data is

common to all of them:

Saint Francis was a great traveler. Around the age of thirty

he left his hometown to go to Syria. Unfortunately, his journey

was interrupted in Dalmatia for an unknown reason, but

probably because he couldn’t find a ship to Syria, so he was

forced to return to Italy.

In spite of the failure of his first attempted trip to a Muslim

country, he set off on another journey to Islamic lands, this

time Morocco. To go to Morocco, he crossed France and Spain.

Again he failed to succeed in his plan, because he contracted

a serious disease in Spain and once more had to return to

Assisi.

His third endeavor to get to an Arab country finally

succeeded. He boarded a ship at Ancona in the year 1219,

seven years before his death, at the same time the fifth crusade

was under way. Once in Egypt, Saint Francis wanted to meet

Sultan Malic al-Kamil. Their meeting really happened, and as

far as we know, he was treated kindly by the sultan as a guest,

and not as an enemy. He received safe conduct and was invited

to return to visit Egypt anytime.

From Egypt he travelled to the Holy Land. About two years

before his death, he received the stigmata on Mount Verna.

Later, his health worsened and he died in a small church

near Assisi called Porziuncola. At his death, his body was taken

to Assisi and a basilica was later built in the place where he

was buried.

I had the opportunity of going to Assisi three times in my

life. The first time was with my parents on a travel to north

Italy. It happened many years ago. Even though I was very

young and not in a condition to appreciate Saint Francis’s

message to humanity, a few things remained etched in my

mind. One was the sight of the cilice, which Saint Francis wore

to mortify his body.

The cilice was a special garment made of goat hair, which

caused considerable suffering to the person who wore it. The

flesh was considered a kind of contamination of the soul;

therefore, through the mortification of the body, the soul

would be purified.

Hearing the story of Saint Francis from my parents, I was

struck by the strength of character of this great man who

rebelled against his father in order to follow the aspirations of

his heart.

The second time I visited Assisi was while I was traveling

on a trip organized by the parish priest from the Church of

San Cataldo. We visited the basilica, which is divided into three

parts: the upstairs basilica, the walls of which are covered with

gorgeous frescoes by Giotto; the downstairs basilica, which

contains other works of art; and finally the crypt where Saint

Francis’s mortal remains are kept.

The tomb is placed in a raised position over the altar, and

is made without frills of grey square and rectangular stones.

As soon as I knelt to say some prayers and make a wish, I had

the sensation that a kind of energy was radiating from his

tomb, and then I asked Saint Francis to hear my prayer.

Please, Saint Francis, grant me a gift! You are a very

powerful saint and can easily make my wish come true. I love

Elisabetta more than life, and I want her to become my wife.

There are many hindrances that prevent us from getting

married. Please, Saint Francis, remove all the hindrances and

help us get married as soon as possible.”

At that time I had fallen in love with a young lady named

Elisabetta. She was from Enna as well, and taught Latin and

Greek at the high school. I courted her for two years and

wanted to get engaged to her. We used to stroll along Via Roma

and Belvedere and talk religion. In fact, she was an earnest

Catholic, to such an extent that she was once on the verge of

quitting her job to become a Carmelite cloistered nun.

One day while we were walking around the Lombardia

Castle, she told me of her pilgrimage to Assisi. “I have been

struck by Saint Francis’s burial place. I felt a special energy

coming from his tomb,” she said.

Now, I don’t know whether or not it was due to

autosuggestion because Elisabetta had told me her feelings,

but the same strange sensation was now happening to me.

While I repeatedly asked San Francis to grant my wish, I felt

as if powerful energy was radiating from his tomb and talking

to me.

I have spent all my life searching for God,” Saint Francis’s

energy seemed to say, “and now you arrive at my tomb and

ask me to grant you a trivial wish, Vincenzino!”

I wondered why Saint Francis would consider my wish to

get married to my beloved trivial. As time passed, I realized

that I had actually requested something really trivial. In fact,

human affairs like love, business, careers, and so on are trifles

in comparison to the search and love for God, who is the giver

of life.

Meanwhile, Elisabetta got married to another man, and I

understood that what I had considered a great love was

nothing more than an infatuation doomed to dissolve like the

fog dispersed by the wind.

True love is not related to a woman or a person. Love is

something that you must have inside you. Love comes from

your heart and mind, and it stands apart from the appearance

and character of the people who you come across and the

happenings of life.

Later, I married a lady from Greece, and we now live

together in Enna. In the evenings after dinner, my wife and I

usually stroll along Via Roma and Saint Francis Square, which

is surrounded by old palaces on three sides and by the stately

Church of Saint Francis on the fourth.

A small green area had recently been attached to the

church, with an olive tree and a statue of Saint Francis

surrounded by white doves inside it. While my wife and I

were going back home and passed by that green, we noticed a

fragrance emanating from the area. We turned in all directions

but couldn’t spot a flower or a tree from where that subtle

scent might be emanating. The following days we passed by

the same place again, but we couldn’t smell anything.

A subtle thread was leading me to Assisi for the third time.

My Greek wife and I decided to take a car trip across northern

and central Italy. We embarked on a ferry in Palermo and

landed in Genoa. From there we travelled to Pisa, Florence,

and San Gimignano.

While we were admiring the numerous towers of the last

town, my wife suddenly cried out, “What about going to

Assisi? Is it far from here? Do you remember the fragrance we

smelt in Enna near the Church of Saint Francis?”

No, it is not far away. We can go to Perugia first, and Assisi

is a stone’s throw from there,” I replied.

We arrived at Saint Francis’s hometown around midday

and found lodging in a monastery run by Filipino nuns. We

strolled for a while around the medieval city and then arrived

at the basilica. My wife was surprised at the sight of the

frescoes both upstairs and downstairs.

Even though I am not a Christian,” she said, “and don’t

follow any religion, I cannot help being astonished by the

religious ardor that was behind these great masterpieces.”

Then we went to the crypt and sat on a pew facing Saint

Francis’s tomb. As soon as I sat down, I had the sensation that

the same energy that had talked to me many years ago was

now speaking again, suggesting the path I should follow to

find out who really I was.

Purify your heart, mind, body, and actions, and then you’ll

see God inside you!

What was Saint Francis telling me this time? I inferred

that he meant that the real kingdom of God is inside every

living being, but we cannot find it if our mind is contaminated

by too many materialistic desires or our actions are not

directed towards the wellbeing of our fellow creatures. I also

inferred that prayer and meditation are a good way to purify

the mind and get close to God, as long as my actions aim not

towards an egoistic goal, but to the love of all creatures.

While I was meditating on what Saint Francis was

suggesting to me at that moment, my wife suddenly turned to

me. “I have a pain in my heart, and my heart is pounding! I

shed tears and I don’t know why. I don’t feel sad and I don’t

know why I am crying!”

My wife is not Catholic, and actually doesn’t practice any

religion. So we couldn’t understand why such a phenomenon

befell her. Maybe the same energy that had talked to me was

revealing itself to her in some way.

I left Assisi with a strong devotion to Saint Francis. Every

time I had trouble in my life after that, I thought of him and

reminded myself that my worldly misfortunes are a mere

trifle. What really matters in life is the search and love for God

and all His creatures.

Reviewing my encounter with Saint Francis, I reconsidered

what my law teacher had taught me a long time ago. She had

stressed the importance of the difference between a piece of

evidence and a clue. A piece of evidence is a fact that you have

seen or heard, or a way that an event can be proved with

absolute certainty—evidence that can direct the judge to

return his verdict. A clue doesn’t have the strength of evidence,

and a mere clue is usually not enough to bring in a judge’s

verdict, but if the clues are numerous, unambiguous, precise,

and concordant with one another, they can be taken into

consideration by the judge in order to pass judgment.

In the case of my encounter with Saint Francis, there are

five clues that can be admitted as evidence of the existence of

another spiritual level that is beyond our ordinary worldly

life:

1. The energy that Elisabetta felt while she was praying

before the tomb of Saint Francis;

2. The fragrance that my wife and I smelt near his statue

while we were strolling in Enna;

3. The energy coming from his tomb that talked to me

about the true goals of my life, which were not a mere

love of a woman, money, or some other worldly

pleasure. Searching for God is the real goal;

4. The energy that I felt when I went to Assisi for the

third time. I realized that the kingdom of God is really

inside me. I just need purify my mind, my heart, and

my actions, and then I can be on the path that leads to

the spiritual world;

5. The unusual sensation of pain in my wife’s chest and

the tears in her eyes while she was sitting with me in

front of Saint Francis’s tomb.

These days, Saint Francis is the master in my daily life.

Whenever I am too worried because my business didn’t go

well, I remind myself of the teachings he gave me in the crypt

in Assisi. The ups and downs of life are mere trifles when

compared to meeting God, who stays in the heart of every

human.

By minding Saint Francis’s teachings, I live my life in a

more relaxed way. I am less anxious. I just juggle the events of

life as soccer players do when playing a friendly match.

Excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind

www.sbpra.com/ettoregrillo

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