Collage of the life of the Little Brothers of Francis
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St Francis

 

St Francis was born in 1182 and died in 1226. It was a short life but there is a timelessness about St Francis. For eight centuries, he has inspired men and women in every age, and today he has spiritual sons and daughters on every continent and in every situation imaginable, including us here in rural Australia at Tabulam.

So, you may well ask, what is it about him that makes him as relevant today as he has been in the intervening centuries? There are so many dimensions of his life that it's like looking at a multi-faceted precious jewel.

He lived in an age when Europe was engaged in military campaigns, not only to prevent a Muslim invasion of Europe but also to drive them out of the countries and the peoples they had conquered and converted to Islam. Unlike his fellow citizens, he refused to take up arms or to encourage the use of violence, believing it was against the teaching of Christ. He set off, unarmed, to the Middle East where, eventually, he was granted an audience with the Sultan. His evident holiness and his deeply-held love of Christ, unlike the crusaders, won the respect of the Sultan. Thus he was given permission and protection by the Sultan to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem which were under his control, while his fellow countrymen suffered a severe military defeat at his hands.

Lepers and the great fear of this terrible disease meant that those who were afflicted with it were outcasts of their society, not unlike the fear associated with AIDS in its early days in this country. Lepers had a burial service read over them before they were banished to live outside the villages and towns and, on approaching, other people had to ring a bell and announce their presence with a cry "Unclean, unclean". Not only did Francis go and wash their rotting flesh and share in their rejection, but he saw Christ in these poor despised human beings.

He was a great preacher so that, when he entered a village or town, people would flock to hear him, sometimes in their hundreds and even thousands. Telling a brother that they were going to a certain village to preach, you can imagine his consternation when Francis wandered through the village greeting and talking to people. He neither preached in the village square nor in the church which was his normal custom. When they had passed through the village, the brother asked him about this. Francis replied, "But, dear brother, we are the sermon".

Francis was a great mystic and spent over half of each year in hermitages or remote places where his primary focus was to give himself to God in prayer.

There is his love of Creation which led him to rejoice and praise the Creator; his loyalty to the church, despite its worldliness and wealth; and so the list goes on as we gaze into this beautiful jewel that God has given us in the person of St Francis.

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