The Pope has been quoted as saying: "My choices, including those related to the day-to-day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment."


Spiritual Wellness

St. Francis is one of the most popular historical Catholic figures, and also one of the most venerated. Interest in this Italian Catholic preacher has once again increased on blogs for Christian women due to the fact that on the 13th of March, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose the name Francis upon his election as the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church. There can be no question that the Pope meant to send a powerful message by choosing this name.

 

The Pope has been quoted as saying: "My choices, including those related to the day-to-day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people and from reading the signs of the times. Discernment in the Lord guides me in my way of governing."

 

Once you learn about the life and teachings of St. Francis, you should easily be able to see why the Pope felt that this was the perfect saint to represent his image to the world.

 

Francis was born in Assisi in the year 1181. His father, named Pietro di Bernardone, was a wealthy cloth merchant. Most scholars agree that Francis likely grew up with little formal education and later fought as a soldier for Assisi. After a vision and a pilgrimage to Rome, Francis found a deep religious calling. He revoked his family ties, all of his material possessions, and became a Mendicant friar.

 

The story goes that after giving his father's possessions to the poor and needy, Francis proceeded to the main square of Assisi and stripped naked. No longer wearing the clothes that had been provided to him by his wealthy family, Francis donned only a simple cloak. From then on he lived humbly, simply, and without any material possessions to his name.

 

Having revoked his old life, Francis began preaching, fixing old and damaged churches, and administering to the sick and poor. By 1208 Francis had attracted some followers to his way of life, and they lived much as the Apostles had. Francis and his followers began calling themselves "little brothers." They lived in poverty, begged for their daily food, and preached their message of love, peace, and repentance.

 

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were full of similar apostolic groups who wished to emulate the life of Jesus and his apostles. What set Francis and his followers off from the others, however, was the extent to which they embraced true poverty. While other monks also revoked personal possessions, they nevertheless lived in monasteries which could often be very wealthy. In fact, monasteries functioned as the social safety net of medieval times. Instead of this, Francis strove for both personal and group poverty.

 

In 1209 Francis and his small group of followers, who at that time probably numbered no more than eleven, went to Rome to see Pope Innocent III. The Pope approved and authorized the way of life of the Franciscan order. This was not much of a surprise, as the Church considered it valuable to lead a life of poverty. What was surprising, however, was that Pope Innocent III also authorized Francis and his followers to preach, something which many other groups were not allowed to do. Francis likely gained approval because he was very vocal in his loyalty to the Church and to the sacrament of Holy Orders.

 

Having gained approval from the Pope for his way of life, Francis went on to create the Order of the Poor Clares, a religious order for women. He also established the Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance, for those men and women who could not uproot their lives to become wandering preachers.

 

Francis' order was growing bigger and bigger, and in 1219 he joined the Fifth Crusade to Egypt in an attempt to covert Muslims. Francis even gained an audience with the Sultan, and though the Sultan was not convinced, he reportedly treated Francis with courtesy. By then the Franciscan order had grown to well over 5,000 people, and Francis returned to Italy to provide his followers with some organizational structure, though this had never been his strong suit.

 

Francis and his closest followers began to retreat more and more from public life in an effort to withdraw inwardly and live simply as they had in the beginning. During this time Francis reportedly had many mystical experiences, and in 1224 he became the first recorded person to receive the stigmata. He had been ill for some time before this event, and died two years later in 1226.

 

It was just two years after that, in 1228, that the then Pope Gregory IX pronounced Francis to be a saint. Today he is not only one of the two patron saints of Italy, but also the patron saint of animals and the environment. Francis is also fondly remembered for beginning the tradition of the Nativity Scene during Christmas. St. Francis devoted himself to Jesus, God, and the Gospel in every word and deed, and has persisted in Catholic memory because of it.