St. Francis’ life began in wealth. Born to a cloth merchant in Assisi in 1181, Francis lived in luxury until war called him away from home, in 1204. It was immediately following the war that Francis received a vision; he soon lost his desire for a worldly life and returned to Assisi as a peasant. Francis’ father disowned him for his choice to follow Christ, and the saint-to-be began both begging and preaching on the streets.
St. Francis challenged everyone to protect nature. Legends about him paint a portrait of a man whose donkey wept upon his death; who blessed a wolf and commanded him to stop harming townspeople and their flocks; and who told his companions that he would “preach to” his “sisters the birds.” During his sermon, not one bird flew away. It is said that he once removed worms from a busy road and placed them to the side so they would not be crushed under human traffic.
St. Francis spent up to half of each year praying in different places amongst nature and the wilderness, living in hermitages, caves, under lean-to’s, and on mountainsides, interspersing this with preaching to animals and plants as well as to people.
While ministering to the poor and sick, Francis contracted conjunctivitis and malaria. Later, approaching death, he went back to Assisi where he died on October 3rd, 1226, at the age of 44. People reported a flock of larks swooping near and singing at the moment of his death.
St. Francis before Pope Innocent III (from movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon 1972)
All Creatures Big and Small
Although Francis left behind relatively few written documents, his Canticle of the Creatures (also known as The Canticle of Brother Sun), composed one year before he died and while he was laying ill in a small dark hut near San Damiano, sings that the entire creation is charged with the goodness of God so that, even in eternal life, creation will offer praise and glory to the Most High.
The Canticle of the Creatures
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.