As a young man, Francis dreamt of glamour, fame and fortune, but in his 20s, in a moment of prayer in the ruined Church of San Damiano, he heard a voice coming from the crucifix, telling him to “go restore my Church which you see is falling into ruin.” Eager to obey the Lord, Francis set about collecting and begging for stones and started repairing the crumbling little church with his own hands.
Living the Gospel Life
When he had finished with San Damiano he moved on to repair other little churches and it was at the little Church of St Mary of the Angels, in the woods at the foot of the hill of Assisi, that Francis reached another turning point in his life. While at Mass there, he felt the words of Christ in the Gospel reading penetrate his being and resound in his soul:
“And going, preach, saying the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand … Freely have you received, freely give. Take neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses … nor two coats nor shoes nor a staff … Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves…” (Mt 10:7-19).
Francis finally understood that Christ was not calling him to repair the physical structure of the broken-down chapels. He was challenging Francis to live the Gospel in his daily life, to inspire others to the same vision and “rebuild” the Church of God throughout the world. Francis exclaimed, “This is what I want! This is what I desire! This is what I long for with all my heart!”
Within two months, Francis was joined on his mission by other men of Assisi who shared the same vision – to follow Christ. First to join him was Bernard of Quintavalle, a wealthy young man from Assisi. They were joined by a lawyer, Peter of Catania, and a peasant named Giles.
Wishing to be more certain of God’s will, they went to the Church of San Niccolò next to the piazza of Assisi, and prayed devoutly that the Lord would show them his will on opening the book of Gospels in that church. Francis took the closed book and, kneeling before the altar, opened it. He read:
“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell everything you possess and give to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven (Mk 10:21).
Francis was overjoyed when he read this passage and gave thanks God. But as one with a special devotion to the Trinity, he desired a threefold confirmation. So, he opened the book a second time and read:
Take nothing for your journey (Lk 9:3)
At the third opening, he found a final confirmation:
If any man wishes to come after me, he must deny himself (Mt 16:24).
Soon, the little group grew into a small commune that initially settled around the original Church of Our Lady of the Angels. Dressed in rough clothes, they worked with their hands, begged for food, shared what they had with the poor and hungry, cared for lepers and other outcasts, and preached the Gospel and the goodness of God to the margins of society and at the frontiers of the known world.
In the footsteps of Francis
The word ‘friar’ means “brother”, and the Order of Friars Minor, or “Order of Lesser Brothers”, is first and foremost a brotherhood. Franciscan Friars seek to follow Jesus Christ more closely, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and in accordance with the Rule of Life composed by St Francis of Assisi.
Through their religious profession, Franciscan Friars dedicate themselves totally to God in obedience, with nothing of their own, and in chastity. They seek to live a life of prayer and devotion, bear witness to the Gospel in a spirit of charity, ongoing personal conversion and minority, and preach reconciliation, peace and justice. They strive to recognise those around them as their brothers and sisters, engage in dialogue with believers of other faiths and show respect for all creation.