Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What You Never Knew About: St Francis of Assisi



Welcome to a new series on my blog titled What You Never Knew About. This will focus on a particular issue, person or trait about the Catholic Church most people don't know much about.

With Pope Francis' arrival to America, what better way to start this off than with the Holy Father's namesake, St Francis of Assisi. People only know him as a monk that loved animals, and some might know him as a statue in a garden but not much else.

Yet he deserves to be known for so much more, like….

                                      He was the first recorded case of stigmata.

That's right: the phenomena of Christ's wounds appearing on a holy person first occurred with him. Although Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians that he bears "on his body the marks of Jesus", Francis brought it to the forefront two years before his death. Although it's not clear whether he was traveling alone or with him, there's no reason to think he was lying about it.
It should also be noted that of all the confirmed stigmata cases, the vast majority are found either in the Franciscan order or orders who follow the Franciscan rule of life.

                                           He invented the Nativity scene.

That depiction you see every year of the baby Jesus with Mary, Joseph and the Magi? That came from Francis. He initially created it to show the humble beginnings of the Lord of Lords after he visited the Holy Land. We think of it now as a collection of statues, but his involved real life people.
Another interesting note: his nativity was not done in his native Assisi but in Greccio, about 56 miles away.

                One of his followers would be the first woman to write a monastic rule of life. 

That woman is known as St Clare of Assisi, founder of the Poor Clares. Some mistakenly believe she is Francis' biological sister, but this is not the case: they just happened to come from the same town. The rule of their order was not approved by the sitting Pope until the day before Clare died.

            He set in motion the tradition of gaining a plenary indulgence just by setting foot in a parish.

This is called the Portiuncula indulgence, named after the little church inside the mother church for the Franciscan order. The story goes Francis built a small hut near a tiny chapel called Our Lady of the Angels and began gathering followers. The local bishop gave Francis custody of the chapel after being impressed by Francis' group and as the years went by, people started building a little church inside the main church. The indulgence at first only applied to Franciscan run churches but over time came to be extended to all parishes on Aug 2nd (the feast of Our Lady of the Angels), the namesake of the specific parish and founder of religious orders (if the parish is run by a specific order). 

                                      He wrote the overlooked Canticle of the Sun.

If you've read Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato si', you might know about this one already. Much like a litany focusing on saints of an order or Opus Dei's Preces, the Canticle of the Sun summarizes the spirituality of the Franciscans. Although it seems like it might have been written by a hippie Dead-Head, I don't know of any hippie that advises people to not die in a state of mortal sin. 
Another interesting side note: the Canticle is considered among the first literary works to be written in Italian. 

                                          He did NOT write the Prayer of St Francis.

That's right: the prayer that begins "make me an instrument of your peace" was NOT actually written by St Francis. Easy way to tell: St Francis died in 1226 and there is no record of this prayer before 1912.
If this prayer brings you closer to God, wonderful..but stop saying Francis wrote it.
Speaking of things Francis didn't do….

                                           He did not invent the Franciscan Crown.

That was invented by a Franciscan novice several years after Francis' death. The name stuck because it was associated with his order.

                                 He tried to negotiate a peaceful end to the Crusades

Yeah…a Christian tried to bring an end to the Crusades…try wrapping your mind around that one, atheists.
Not a lot of information can be found online about this, but I do recommend looking at a researched book on this subject. Sure, he didn't succeed but it was still worth a try.

           Although he is associated with animals, he is NOT the patron saint of veterinarians.

That title belongs (depending on who you ask) to either St Blaise, St James the Greater or St Eligius. Francis is however the patron saint of ecology, based mostly around the Canticle of the Sun mentioned earlier.

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