Would you give-up everything you own to help the poor?
This is the story of a wealthy playboy who did, Francis Bernardone. He surrendered everything he owned and humbly dedicated himself to help those in need. As a result, he walked into the pages of history under a famous name.
Bernardone (1181 or 1182 to 1226) was born to wealth and influence in Assisi, 41 miles north of Rome. His parents’ money bought him a lavish lifestyle and a fine education.
He was a fancy dresser, loved to drink and had a great time with his friends, most of whom were the children of nobles. On many a night, one could hear the echo of laughter among friends and one joyous song after the next as young Bernardone sang and entertained the night away.
Bernardone admired the knights of King Arthur’s legendary court, who were brave and kind. Bold and personable, he followed in their footsteps and became a soldier.
At about age 20, he joined his comrades in going to war against the neighboring town of Perugia. But Assisi was defeated and Bernardone imprisoned for over a year. During this time, he became seriously ill and being near death, began to think about the shallowness of his life.
However, when he regained his health, he again sought glory as a soldier. But in dreams, he was haunted by death, and in 1205, he became seriously ill again. As he lay ill, his thoughts took him to the spiritual and he wanted to find greater meaning in his life.
Then legend tells us something profound happened. After Bernardone recovered, he saw a poor lonely leper, disfigured and repulsive, begging for money. People avoided lepers because they believed leprosy was contagious and they put lepers into colonies away from everyone else.
Bernardone was at first repulsed by this man and avoided him. Then feeling ashamed of himself, he hugged this unfortunate man and gave him all the money in his pockets.
Thereafter, he began praying to God for enlightenment and in stages, he began to nurse leprosy victims in their colony near Assisi. It was a lonely vigil but one he knew in his heart he had to do.
The transition in Bernardone had begun. A short time later, during prayer, he heard a voice that told him to restore a dilapidated chapel near Assisi. To do as he was asked, he immediately sold his horse and some of his other valuable possessions.
But when Bernardone tried to give the money to the officiating priest, much to his humiliation, it was rejected. When his father heard what happened, he was irate because he viewed this as a waste of money and yet another irrational action of his son.
To avoid his father’s anger, Bernardone lived in a cave for a month. When he emerged, ravaged with hunger and covered in dirt, the townspeople laughed and jeered and threw stones and mud at him.
When Bernardone returned home, his father tried to convince him the things he was doing were crazy. When that failed, his father threatened him and when that didn’t work; beat him and locked him up. Ultimately, his father disinherited him.
Bernardone’s response was to surrender his possessions and the privileges his rank in society afforded him. Homeless, he wandered the countryside but thieves soon beat and robbed him and left him for dead in a snow drift.
Nearly frozen, Bernardone barely survived and staggered to a nearby monastery. Eventually, he returned to the Assisi chapel where the voice had told him to do the repairs and then by his own labor and by begging for materials, he restored that chapel.
He continued nursing the lepers and he built a hut for himself near a chapel so he could attend services. Wanting to be more like Jesus, in 1208, Bernardone began wearing a brownish, coarse woolen tunic like those worn by the poorest people. He discarded his shoes and went barefoot.
Cheerfully, he began walking the land helping those in need and encouraging among all mankind, brotherhood and peace. He sincerely believed he was doing the right thing, even if others thought he’d lost his mind. His faith sustained him.
Soon, the word of his self-sacrifice spread and he was joined by others who were seeking greater meaning in their own lives.
In 1209, Bernardone, who had no formal religious education, and his small band of 11 followers decided to ask Pope Innocent lll for permission to start a new religious order. At first, the Pope abruptly refused to meet with them.
However after a dream in which he reportedly witnessed Bernardone upholding the dilapidated old Lateran (the ancient cathedral in Rome and the Pope’s residence), the Pope had a change of heart and granted them his permission.
The Franciscan Order was now coming into being and with it; Bernardone’s doctrine of kindness and humility and his love for mankind and nature would reach much of the world.
But with their tremendous growth, the Franciscans built a hierarchy, set rules and took ownership of buildings and other assets.
In response, Bernardone resigned. For he felt as a servant of God, it was essential for him to live in poverty, nurse the sick, labor in the fields, bake and offer bread, sweep out churches and live a humble life.
Under what name did this amazing man become widely known to history? St. Francis of Assisi.
In lieu of our Success Tip of the Week: may I share his famous Peace Prayer with you:
“Lord make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light, and
Where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be
Consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”