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St. Francis Day

            Christianity
contains many significant saints and traditions that are celebrated throughout
the year. The importance of the entirety of saints is celebrated on All Saints
Day while a few special saints receive their own day of celebration. One of
these lucky saints happens to be Saint Francis. Saint Francis of Assisi is the
patron saint of animals, merchants, and ecology. He cared for both the sick and
the poor. His life is commemorated on October 4th on St. Francis
Day.  Through ritual, social, and experiential
elements, St. Francis Day is honored by Roman Catholics and Franciscans
throughout the world.

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Francis was born in Assisi,
Italy around the year 1181. He was baptized as an infant with the name
Giovanni, but his wealthy father changed it to Francesco. His father was a
merchant and granted Francis with an easy childhood which everyone adored him
throughout. People treated him with respect, cared for him when he was ill, and
let him do as he pleased. Education was not of utmost importance to Francis,
instead he became a leader to a group of juveniles that participated in sin. More
than wealth, he wanted to be a noble man, so he proceeded to fight in a war
declared on a town named Perugia. He was captured and held captive for a year,
but soon returned home in hopes to battle again. Shortly after in 1205, Francis
decided to leave for the Fourth Crusade with his horse and newly crafted suit
of armor. On his first night’s journey he dreamt of God telling him to return
home. He did as he was told and returned to Assisi where the villagers laughed
at his cowardliness. Francis waited for another message from God by praying. As
he prayed in the chapel of St. Damian, God spoke to him and said to repair His
church in which Francis stood. To fix the church, he took fabric from his
father’s store and sold it for money. He was ratted out in front of the bishop
as being a thief, but the bishop simply said to return the money and let God
take over. Francis returned the money, stripped his clothes, and claimed
independence from his father stating only “Our Father who art in Heaven.” He sought
forth the hills whilst signing and humming in poverty. He returned to Assis to
rebuild St. Damian church with his bare hands the same way he later restored
St. Peter’s and St. Mary of the Angels. Soon, he began to preach and gathered
followers that desired to live life the same way. He commanded the rich sell their
goods and give to the poor, and he ordered they live by the Gospel. His
followers came from all different backgrounds, yet he continued to respect and
love every person. All of nature belonged to Francis’s brotherhood as
well.  He preached to the animals and
they listened. Francis named him and his people the Friars Minor. Being the
simplistic man of action he was, Francis journeyed to Rome to meet with Pope
Innocent III for approval of his brotherhood. He had also desired to make peace
between Muslims and Franciscans. As the Crusaders fought the Muslims in Egypt,
Francis encountered Sultan Malik al-Kamil with peaceful dialogue. Out of
respect, the Sultan offered gifts to the Franciscans, but Francis only desired
the salvation of souls. The Sultan’s respect grew and there forth peace between
Muslims and Franciscans remained. In ten years Francis’s brotherhood grew to
5000 members. The overwhelming pressure of authority led Francis to step down
and remain just a brother. In 1223 he thought of celebrating the Nativity as
Christmas was his favorite feast. As his life came to an end, the sufferings of
Christ became a prime focus of his reflections. He received the stigmata which was
a miracle as he was the first saint to receive this. Years of poverty made
Francis so ill he started to go blind. During this time, he wrote his most
beautiful poetry titled “Canticle of the Sun.” An operation on his eyes was
performed of which he did not recover. He passed away on October 3rd,
1226. Pope Gregory IX pronounced Francis a saint on July 16th, 1228.
“Medieval Eschatology and St. Francis of Assisi” discusses the purpose of St.
Francis’s life and states, “in electing this weakest and most sinful of all men
to be His servant, the Lord confounded the nobility and grandeur, the strength,
the beauty and the learning of this world…herein might the world see, in this
poorest of men, the inscrutable will of God for the universe” (Petry 12). This
explanation of God’s choice of St. Francis as His messenger clearly illuminates
His message to the people about His will.

St. Francis Day is
celebrated with a feast every October 4th by Christians and
Franciscans. It is the most important day on the calendar for Franciscans. The
feast is not a public holiday in many countries. It is observed around the
world by numerous churches including countries in North America and Europe as
well as in places such as Australia and the United Kingdom. In the United
States specifically, it is celebrated among 47 states along with the District
of Colombia. Since it originated in Assisi, starting on October 3rd
oil lamps illuminate the town of Assisi for two days with oil brought from a
new Italian town each year. During the centenary year (700 years after
Francis’s death) in 1926, the streets were filled with St. Francis’s men as
well as pilgrims from various lands. The streets were decorated with garlanded
white and purple grapes. People began to prepare for the feast on September 25th
accompanied by daily mass in the Basilica of St. Francis. Three days prior to
the feast, special Triduum’s occurred. The Cardinal Protectors of each Franciscan
Order were present in Assisi to deliver homilies and pontificate. Important
figures of the time visited Assisi including the King of Italy, Royal Princes,
Crown Ministers, Senators, and more. Most importantly, the scene of the Papa
Legate kneeling over St. Francis’s tomb accompanied by the Father General and
his court awestruck the citizens of Assisi. 
According to “Franciscana: Celebration at Assisi,” the magnificent
ceremony held at sunset took place outside the cell of St. Francis where “the
most holy soul of Francis of Assisi passed to God on the October evening” (Walsh
4). The people gathered round to experience this transcendent realm of
Francis’s death as they knelt before his tomb to receive his dying blessing. This
way of celebration differs from how St. Francis Day is celebrated today. As
previous celebrations focused on the experiential dimension of St. Francis’s
life, todays celebrations primarily focus on the social and ritual dimensions. New
rituals include how in countries like the United States, children annually bring
their pets to the church to be blessed. It is common to sing hymns at church. Socially,
many teachers and caregivers take this day to teach children about abused and
endangered animals and actions to help save the animals. This feast is in concurrence
with World Animal Day. Attending church on this day and being a part of the
community also falls under the social dimension. A second feast to honor the
stigmata received by St. Francis is observed by Roman Catholics and Franciscans
on September 17th known as The Impression of the Stigmata of St.
Francis. A few symbols linked to St. Francis that are prominent on St. Francis Day
are animals (especially bids, wolves, and deer), the stigmata, a lighted lamp,
a skull, fire, a fiery chariot, a crown of thrones, a winged crucifix with 5
rays, and a bag of gold and “rich raiment” among others. Many children find
this time very fun as kids are fond of animals. Adults tend to venture on
nature walks and bring their children to church. Personally, this day holds
great significance in my life as St. Francis of Assisi is my confirmation
saint. I chose St. Francis as I have a strong love for animals and nature and
Francis deeply appreciates both animals and nature in a beautiful way. Francis
in considered my protector and guide for how to live life. Thus, I have been
loving towards all animals and have developed an extreme gratitude for our
earth. Francis is considered one of the most popular and venerated saints in
religious history. Pope Francis chose his papal name in honor of St. Francis. Francis
is so loved because “he transformed every truth which he grasped with his mind
into prayer and praise of God, and contemplated them with unceasing elevation
of the
heart” declares the journal “St. Francis of Assisi” (George12).

Overall, through the
constantly evolving tradition of celebrating St. Francis Day, St. Francis’s
life is honored through experiential, social, and ritual dimensions. This
beloved saint has inspired individuals to care for animals and nature, and to trust
in God’s will rather than desiring wealth and riches. His impact on Christian
practices and start of the Franciscan group will always be appreciated and
glorified in the religious world. St. Francis Day will be eminent for all
eternity.

Works Cited

“Advocate of Peace
through Justice.” Advocate of Peace through Justice, vol. 91, no.
4, 1929,     pp. 254–254. JSTOR,
JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20681312.

 

George, R. E. Gordon. “ST. FRANCIS OF
ASSISI.” Blackfriars, vol. 7, no. 79, 1926, pp. 600–   611. JSTOR, JSTOR,
www.jstor.org/stable/43812285.

 

Petry, Ray C. “Medieval Eschatology and St.
Francis of Assisi.” Church History, vol. 9, no. 1,     1940, pp. 54–69. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3160808.

 

Robinson, Paschal. “St. Francis of
Assisi.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New
York:            Robert Appleton
Company, 1909. 12 Dec.    2017.

 

Walsh, Marie Donegan. “Franciscana: Celebration at Assisi.” The
Catholic Historical Review,     vol.
12, no. 4, 1927, pp. 656–660. JSTOR, JSTOR,
www.jstor.org/stable/25012364.

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