It has been said many times that Saint Francis of Assisi, whom the Church celebrates today, is the man most like Our Divine Lord in the history of Christendom. That may or may not be true, and we leave the decision to heaven. But we can be sure that there are resemblances between Jesus of Nazareth and Francis of Assisi. Sanctity, of course, would be the most important one; another would be the poverty of Jesus which so appealed to Saint Francis that he lived in total poverty after his initial conversion to fervent love of Our Lord. And then a third would be the wounds that he bore in his hands, feet, and side, which we call the stigmata. They were impressed into his body during a vision that Francis had of an angel carrying a crucifix. From the hands, feet, and side of the image of Jesus on the cross there came rays of light to the corresponding parts of the body of Saint Francis, and remained there as wounds for the rest of his life, causing him great pain.
Three places have always been specially dear to me on my trips to Italy. One is the room in our Dominican motherhouse of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill. The building was given to Saint Dominic by Pope Honorius III when he granted official approval to the Order which Dominic was founding: the Order of Preachers, or as we usually say, the Dominicans. That room was used by Saint Dominic when he was in Rome during the remainder of his life. You would think that the historical marker in that room would indicate that it was Saint Dominic’s room. But no; what the marker says is that in that room on a particular night, “Our Holy Father Saint Dominic and Our Holy Father Saint Francis spent the night in prayer.” We Dominicans have always regarded Saint Francis as a very special patron saint of ours because of the friendship of these two men, founders of two of the Mendicant Orders. Another place that I love to visit in Rome is out in the open, on a spot near the facade of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. In the days of Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, the Popes lived at Saint John Lateran, so when Saint Francis went to Rome to apply for the papal approval of his Order, he had to go to the Lateran. Before the basilica, there stands a beautiful statuary group showing Saint Francis catching sight for the first time of the Lateran Basilica. His face is full of happiness, his hands raised in delight and salute of this cathedral of the city of Rome. The statue captures beautifully the joy of the moment which so floods the heart of Francis.
Finally, there is the whole town of Assisi which is totally permeated with the spirit of Saint Francis. The beauty of the plain in Umbria where it is located, the medieval quaintness of the town which crowns a hill there and finds its architectural climax in the basilica of Saint Francis where his tomb is venerated, and the tiny stone chapel which Francis made his headquarters and which is now totally enclosed in a much larger church called Saint Mary of the Angels. The tiny stone church is called the Portiuncula—“the little portion”— to represent Francis’s love of poverty in imitation of the poor man of Nazareth. It was there that Francis died in the year 1226, five years after the death of our Father Saint Dominic.
Saint Francis used to wish people “pax et bonum”: peace and good. So on this feast of our holy Father St. Francis, I wish you peace and good in imitation of this man who was so like Jesus. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.