Francis of Assisi (Italian: San Francesco d’Assisi; Latin: Sanctus Franciscus Assisiensis), born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, informally named as Francesco (1181/1182 – 3 October 1226), was an Italian Catholic friar, deacon, philosopher, mystic and preacher. He founded the men’s Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of Saint Clare, the Third Order of Saint Francis and the Custody of the Holy Land. Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in Christianity. Indulged by his parents, Francis lived the high-spirited life typical of a wealthy young man. As a youth, Francesco became a devotee of troubadours and was fascinated with all things Transalpine. He was handsome, witty, gallant, and delighted in fine clothes. He spent money lavishly. Although many hagiographers remark about his bright clothing, rich friends, and love of pleasures, his displays of disillusionment toward the world that surrounded him came fairly early in his life.
Around 1202, he joined a military expedition against Perugia and was taken as a prisoner at Collestrada, spending a year as a captive. An illness caused him to re-evaluate his life. It is possible that his spiritual conversion was a gradual process rooted in this experience. One morning in February 1208, Francis was hearing Mass in the chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, near which he had then built himself a hut. The Gospel of the day was the “Commissioning of the Twelve” from the Book of Matthew. The disciples are to go and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Francis was inspired to devote himself to a life of poverty. Having obtained a coarse woolen tunic, the dress then worn by the poorest Umbrian peasants, he tied it around him with a knotted rope and went forth at once exhorting the people of the country-side to penance, brotherly love, and peace. Francis’ preaching to ordinary people was unusual since he had no license to do so.
His example drew others to him. Within a year Francis had eleven followers. In 1209 he composed a simple rule for his followers (“friars”), the Regula primitiva or “Primitive Rule”, which came from verses in the Bible. The rule was “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps”. Francis set out to imitate Christ and literally carry out his work. This is important in understanding Francis’ character, his affinity for the Eucharist and respect for the priests who carried out the sacrament. He preached: “Your God is of your flesh, He lives in your nearest neighbor, in every man.”
He and his followers celebrated and even venerated poverty, which was so central to his character that in his last written work, the Testament, he said that absolute personal and corporate poverty was the essential lifestyle for the members of his order. He believed that nature itself was the mirror of God. He called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters”, and even preached to the birds and supposedly persuaded a wolf in Gubbio to stop attacking some locals if they agreed to feed the wolf. Saint Francis is the saint of wildlife.
“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received – only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.”
“Lord, help me to live this day, quietly, easily. To lean upon Thy great strength, trustfully, restfully. To wait for the unfolding of Thy will, patiently, serenely. To meet others, peacefully, joyously. To face tomorrow, confidently, courageously.”
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
“Do all you can to preach the gospel and if necessary use words!”
“God requires that we assist the animals, when they need our help. Each being (human or creature) has the same right of protection.”
“Ask the beasts and they will teach you the beauty of this earth.”
“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”
“The only thing ever achieved in life without effort is failure.”
“What do you have to fear? Nothing. Whom do you have to fear? No one. Why? Because whoever has joined forces with God obtains three great privileges: omnipotence without power, intoxication without wine, and life without death.”
“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it.”
Dedicated to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission