Saturday, Oct 21, 2017 | Last Update : 05:44 PM IST
With his new-found love for the poor and forsaken, Francesco prayed in San Damiano’s church for guidance.
When I am dying, lay me naked on the ground and let me lie there after I’m dead for some time,” were instructions of Saint Francis of Assisi to his companions before he died on October 3, 1226. Francis is universally loved because of his deep love for God, care for the poor and sensitivity towards all creatures who he fondly called mother earth, brother sun and sister water.
Born in 1181 to wealthy cloth merchants Pietro and Giovanna Bernardone in Assisi, Italy, “Francesco” lived in luxury with romantic dreams of knighthood. A serious illness dashed his dreams of glory. Recovering, he began questioning the ultimate meaning of life. On meeting a leper, Francis gave him alms and embraced him warmly, which, in his own words, “changed bitterness into sweetness”.
With his new-found love for the poor and forsaken, Francesco prayed in San Damiano’s church for guidance. He heard a voice from the crucified Christ: “Francis, repair my house which is in ruins.” Believing this to be a call to repair dilapidated churches, he bought bricks to renovate churches. He even disposed off silks from his family’s cloth-shop to acquire funds for this. Infuriated, his father ordered him to abandon his work and inherit the family business. But, Francis left home and began his spiritual quest.
Francis’ spirituality is inspirational in many ways. First, he experienced God’s profound love in two peak moments of Jesus’ life: his birth in Bethlehem’s crib and his death on Calvary’s cross. This led him to preach and practice love not in mere words but in the selfless and sacrificial gift of himself for the welfare of others.
Second, Francis’ mystical “inner eye” saw the whole cosmos originating from God and finding final fulfilment in God. Thus, everything and everyone — animate or inanimate — was brother, sister, mother and friend. His “Canticle of the Creatures” echoes this exquisitely.
Third, Francis can be considered the pioneer of interfaith dialogue. In 1219, he travelled to Damietta, Egypt, to dialogue with Sultan Malek al-Kamil at a time when Christian-Muslim relations were terribly strained. Later, Francis composed the beautiful hymn: Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow your love...
Freed from all attachments to family, fame and fortune, Francis’ lifestyle has attracted many youth who, over centuries, have left everything to serve God and the poor. His companions were first called Fratres Minores — “Little Brothers” — who pledged “to walk in the footsteps of Jesus”.
Francis of Assisi inspires us to live harmoniously and happily as “little brothers/sisters” if we live unencumbered by burdensome egos, treasure our connectedness to Mother Earth, and, in his alleged advice, “Preach constantly — and, if necessary, with words!”