St. Francis of Assisi
Francis was born around 1181. As a young man in his Italian hometown of Assisi, he loved parties and good times. He was handsome and rich, so he bought himself the finest clothes and spent money freely. Francis had no desire to study or to learn his father's business-he just wanted to have fun. After two illnesses and other adventures, Francis realized that he was wasting precious time. He became aware that he should be serving Jesus. He began by praying more and making sacrifices to grow strong in spirit. Once he kissed a horrible-looking leper, while giving him money. Often he gave his clothes and money to the poor. He served the sick in hospitals. Still he felt he must do more. He fasted and began to go around in rags to humble himself.
It is not hard to imagine how his former rich friends must have looked at him now! His father was so angry that he beat him and locked him up at home. Francis bore all this suffering for love of Jesus. When his father took everything from him in disgust, Francis put all his trust in his Father in heaven. He said that he was married to "Lady Poverty" and he began to live as a beggar. He had no shelter. His food was what kind people gave him. Everywhere he went, he urged people to stop sinning and return to God. Soon many men began to realize how close to God this poor man was, and they became his disciples. That is how the great Franciscan order of priests and brothers began. They helped the poor and sick and preached everywhere. Even after the order had spread all over Italy, Francis insisted that they should not own anything. He wanted the friars to love poverty as he did.
St. Francis had the power of working miracles and even of making birds and animals obey him! As a reward for his great love, Jesus gave him his own wounds in his hands and feet. The humble Francis tried to hide them.
Toward the end of his life, he became very sick. He was told he would live only a few more weeks. Then he exclaimed, "Welcome, Sister Death!" He asked to be laid on the ground and covered with an old habit. Then he urged his brothers to love God, to love being poor, and to obey the Gospel. "I have done my part," he said. "May Jesus teach you to do yours." Francis died on October 3, 1226. He was proclaimed a saint.
Francis followed the example of Jesus closely by living a life of simplicity and teaching others the Gospel message with great joy.