FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

1. St. Francis and St Clare - life and times (2)

The turning point

The renunciation to wealth in front of the Bishop of Assisi
(left: fresco by Giotto; right: detail from fresco by Gozzoli)
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1.13. Francis entered in open conflict with his father. Pietro was convinced that his son was going to ruin his business and his family's reputation. He could not bear to see his son begging stones to repair San Damiano's church, nor could he believe his eyes to see his son full of prodigality towards beggars and outcasts to the point of mixing freely with them. Pica tried to calm him down, to explain that Francis needed time to reflect. It was all in vain. Pietro decided to bring Francis in front of the town consuls to declare that he had to renounce his right to the family's possessions. But Francis was an oblate, and thus he was directly under the bishop's jurisdiction. The consuls were well aware of this and they did not get involved in the matter. So Pietro turned to Guido, the bishop of Assisi. Francis this time accepted the challenge. The trial took place in the bishop's residence, near the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Guido tried to coax Francis into giving back to is father the money he acquired for San Damiano. Francis promptly obeyed, giving back not only the money but also stripping himself naked before the onlookers and presenting his clothes and all his belongings to his father. "From now onwards - he stated - I can turn to God and call him my Father in heaven". Pietro had to return home an embarrassed man, and Francis left Assisi for some time dressed in the poor garments of a hermit. Along the road robbers attacked him. He answered that he was the herald of the great king. They considered him a poor idiot and threw him in a ditch full of snow, leaving him there singing God's praises. For some months he found hospitality first as a kitchen worker in the Benedictine abbey of San Verecondo, and later in the town of Gubbio, in the house of a friend, Federico Spadalunga. In Gubbio he served the leper community.

meeting a poor manplacing a cloak
Francis meets a poor man and A cloak is laid at his feet

1.14. In the summer of 1206 Francis returned to Assisi, determined to repair San Damiano. He boldly entered the town and started begging stones and scraps of food. Although he felt disgust at the idea of eating leftovers, he had to learn the hard way, like the poor did. He understood that the real "minores" of Assisi were not the merchants, but the outcasts. And he was determined to feel one of them. Even when he was still a rich young man he wanted to understand the way of life of the poor beggars. He was on a pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles in Rome. At Saint Peter's tomb he changed his clothes with those of a beggar, and took his place for a whole day.

1.15. Francis sang at the top of his voice when repairing San Damiano. He remembered his mother's soft voice singing in her Provençal dialect. These songs came spontaneously to him as he worked hard. Farmers would stop and eye him with suspicion, but also probably with some affection, as they looked at his youthful exuberance. He would tell them that San Damiano would become a holy place where young and noble ladies would come to serve God in the future. The biographers considered these words as a prophecy regarding Clare and her "Povere Dame di San Damiano", as the first Poor Clares would be called.

1.16. In a short time Francis repaired San Damiano. Then he proceeded in repairing other churches, first San Pietro and then Santa Maria degli Angeli or the Porziuncola. This church was to become the birth-place of his movement. It lies in the Umbrian valley below Assisi. Francis discovered it in the woods. It belonged to the monks of the abbey of San Benedetto al Subasio. Francis reckoned that the monks would be happy enough to let him make use of it. So he began the task of repairing this church. It soon became so dear to him that he would recommend it to his friars as one of the holiest places on earth. It was there that he wanted to die in 1226. But the Porziuncola chapel was the venue of many important landmarks of his life.

The Gospel on the feast of Saint Mathias

1.17. One of these landmarks coincided with the feast of the apostle Saint Mathias, on 24 February 1208. Francis was listening to the Gospel during Mass. It was all about Christ sending his apostles to preach barefoot, with no staff or wallets. They were to be itinerants or pilgrims, and they were to preach peace to all who would listen to them. Francis was overjoyed. That was what he had been searching for all along. He wasted no time in carrying out literally what he had heard. He removed his staff, his shoes, his hermit's leather belt, and went barefoot with a tunic in the form of a Thau, and a cord around his waist. He changed his style of life from that of a hermit-penitent to that of an apostolic preacher. That was the ideal that his movement would follow in the future

© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm


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