Saint Francis of Assisi: a Saint Who Moved to a Life of Purpose
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Saint Francis once said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” It is a simple statement about how to move to a life of purpose. Certainly, Saint Francis embodied this life, and this statement is a reflection of how he created the Franciscan order for the Catholic Church—one of the Church’s two most important group of monks.
What many don’t know about this famous pillar of Christianity is that, as a young adult, he was very far away from being a model Christian. He was born in 1181 in Italy into a wealthy family, and his father was a well-traveled merchant. He had all the things in life that provided for his comfort and a life without want.
Francis as a young man
As a young adult, Francis worked in his father’s business and hung out with other young men of means. He was considered handsome and dressed in colorful clothes. With his friends, he got into the normal trouble of youths. His future was going to be one of luxury and was well-planned out. But Francis was unsettled about this life of luxury.
One day while he was manning his father’s shop, a beggar arrived asking for a handout. Francis rejected the man’s request and sent him on his way. Later, Francis had misgivings, and in a remarkable act of charity, took everything the business had earned that day and proceeded to find the beggar. Eventually, he found the man and gave all he had in his pockets to the man.
Naturally, when his father found out, Francis was severely punished. Despite this, he later did something similar at a nearby church.
The priest stated the coins had come from ill-gotten gains and rejected his offering. This, despite the fact that the church was in disrepair. Francis just wanted to give the coins to help. In an act of anger, he threw the coins on the floor and left.
Later, his father went to retrieve the coins and again severely punished Francis. This eventually led Francis to disown his father and leave his life of wealth. On his own, he began to preach on the streets and, in the first year, eleven others joined him.
With a great deal of zeal and belief in this new direction, Francis went to see the pope to ask that he be allowed to establish a new order. Remarkably, the pope gave him an audience and listened intently to Francis. While the pope did not think that this band of twelve was big enough to form their own order, he gave Francis unofficial approval to continue. He was told to come back when he had more followers.
Converting the Sultan
Over the next few years, Francis’s small tribe grew very quickly, and the Franciscan order was approved by the pope. Francis’s order grew throughout Europe, and Francis himself went with a group of crusaders to visit the Holy Land. His goal wasn’t to attack the Muslims like his fellow travelers wished to, but to convert the sultan.
He didn’t convert the sultan, but he was so impressed with Francis’s piety, he allowed him to visit the holy sites of Christianity in Jerusalem.
Today, there are 290 houses and 5,000 friars worldwide, as well as the Order of Saint Claire which Francis helped form. From his meager beginnings, and with few to help at first, Francis created a legacy and organization that exists today to do good for the world.
There is so much more to the story of this devoted and colorful early Christian. Going back to Francis’s quote, we can see why he said what he did. Creating great faith or organizations doesn’t happen in a moment. It doesn’t happen just because we want it to happen. It happens because we start with the basics, building a foundation to do the impossible. With a persistent, but sometimes uneven effort, we build the foundation—one that with the help of God and our neighbors grows into the impossible.
Francis lived his life with purpose.
At first, he had to rid himself of a life forced upon him through his birth into wealth. It was a path he didn’t at first know was not his own, but gradually over time, he threw off the shackles that bound him and made him uncomfortable. Bravely, he let go of these binds and pursued the life which God intended for him.
There are people in my life, like my wife, sister-in-law Penny, and brother-in-law Ken whose compass was already directed to a life of faith. Most of us aren’t like this. There are bindings that hold us back—shackles that misinform us about our true purpose. Some, like myself, spend years resisting while the compelling force of God pushes.
Eventually and slowly, the walls crumble, and we take the necessary steps toward our faith. Billy Graham explains this by saying, “Conversion isn’t instantaneous, but a daily effort to become like Christ.” The path is rarely even, and many times it is bumpy, but by doing the necessary, we smooth out our course and begin to arrive where God wants us.
Saint Francis is a model of where we should go and who we should be. His example teaches us to leave behind those things that prevent us from fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
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