Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone had a unique approach to discipleship. In his day the church wielded much power and influence and many in its leadership roles fell prey to the sins of power. Giovanni Francesco in fact was not much different from these priests. Though he was a member of the laity he came from a family of wealth and in his youth he too was victim of the sins of wealth. He had the reputation of a party loving and carefree soul. In his youth Giovanni dreamed of joining the elite of his day, he dreamed of becoming a knight. Way back then battles were fought almost at the drop of a hat, many times between two neighboring cities.
The slight Giovanni Francesco did indeed succeed in getting his wish; he became one of the proud knights in defense of his city. Sadly though the aspiring warrior fell from his high horse, and and his wounds were serious enough to put an end to his military career. As so often happens with Saints in training, serious setbacks lead to grand changes. In a gospel sense out of death comes a new life and so this happened to Frank. Frank discovered a little church that was as broken as he was, and he set out to repair it. And so he did. He used his money to replace its stones, refurbish its beams, to polish its furnishings. The repairs he made to that little building seemed at the same time to repair him and he began to see that Church rebuilt in a new light.
Stories rarely go from bad directly to good, there are nearly always little twists that lead to challenges, and this one is no different. The little twist is Francesco’s father; it seems the wealthy business man was worried about his sons path. Francis’s new hobby both consumed funds and led Frank away from following in the family business and away from a livelihood. A tug of war ensued and the battle concluded with builder Frank ripping off his clothing and tossing them at his Father-merchant as a way dramatic declination of his inheritance and family lifestyle. Surprisingly Francis did not end up in a mental institution, though had they existed he likely would have.
In one event Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone renounces family wealth and in another he embraces poverty. That second encounter was the result of an encounter of a leper. With these series of events Frank goes from playboy to beggar /church-troubadour . Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone’s changes were undeniably a dramatic series of events yet the biggest shock is the events of this crushed knight reformed a mighty , powerful, though somewhat corrupt Church. Saint Francis used his experience (aka transformation) of rebuilding a church and his personal embrace of poverty to rebuild a Church by restoring it to its original gospel message. He saw in rebuilding that small structure his calling to rebuild that large organization. He rebuilt a church both with a small and capital “C”. In rebuilding the church by replacing its stones he saw the path to rebuild the larger Church by stripping away all that masked its beauty.
Francis wasn’t a priest, he lacked that training. He was a preacher and a Deacon with the role of aiding the church. A helper, a healer. He didn’t learn his theology in a classroom; he learned it through life and through nature. He did not live segregated from people; he and his friars lived among people. He did not display material wealth; he refused it and relied on only God to provide him and his group with what they needed. Through poverty he found a way to live the gospel and deliver that gospel message to others. His way or order eventually became the one of the largest in the Church. Through a dramatic poverty he fed the flock. His reformation of the church was a counter-reformation to the Protestants as his rebuilt the Church rather than divide it. As his spiritual Journey began with an infirmary, one aspect his order was known for was the building of hospitals for those who were poor. Francis is also the patron saint of ecology as so much of his vision of God came through nature. Isn’t it odd how falling off a horse could lead to such a grand victory?