Francis of Assisi is a saint who was not ideological in any way: he sincerely followed what he understood to be the demands of the Gospel in general and for him in particular. He may well be one of the most popular saints ever – even non-Catholics have his statue in their gardens!
I wonder how many people know about St. Francis’ burning desire to preach the Gospel to Muslims? Check this out, from a short biography:
…Francis sent some of his friars on missions to the infidels in Tunisia, Morocco, and Spain, while he himself undertook one to the Saracens of Egypt and Syria…. He also paid several visits to the Saracen leader, Melek-el-Kamil, Sultan of Egypt. There is a story to the effect that he first went among the enemy with only Brother Illuminato, calling out, “Sultan! Sultan!” When he was brought before the Sultan and asked his errand, Francis replied boldly, “I am sent by the Most High God, to show you and your people the way of salvation by announcing to you the truths of the Gospel.” Discussion followed, and other audiences. The Sultan, somewhat moved, invited Francis to stay with him. “If you and your people,” said Francis, “will accept the word of God, I will with joy stay with you. If you yet waver between Christ and Mohammed, order a fire kindled and I will go into it with your priests that you may see which is the true faith.” The Sultan replied that he did not think any of his <imams> would dare to enter the fire, and he would not accept Francis’ condition for fear of upsetting the people. He offered him many presents, which Francis refused. Fearing finally that some of his Moslems might desert to the Christians, he sent Francis, under guard, back to the camp. Sickened by the senseless slaughter and brutality that marked the taking of the city, Francis went on to visit the Holy Places of Palestine…
I wonder how many people know about his love for beautiful and orderly churches, and for properly venerating the Blessed Sacrament? Check this out (source):
The biographies of St. Francis relate that it grieved him when he found a church that was dirty. He would personally set about to clean it, gathering the clergy and instructing them on the cleanliness of the churches, altars and everything concerned with the celebration of the Mass (cf. Legend of Perugia #18; Mirror of Perfection #56). St. Francis also had a great love toward the Blessed Sacrament and wanted his followers to provide the best for our dear Lord. “He wished at one time to send his brothers through the world with precious pyxes, so that wherever they should see the price of our redemption kept in an unbecoming manner, they should place It in the very best place…” (Thomas Celano. Second Life # 201). St. Francis had a tremendous influence in bringing about a warmth of devotion and appreciation of beauty to our Catholic Faith. St. Clare, likewise, spent her final years in ill health making altar linens for all of the churches in the area.
So often the image of St. Francis that is projected in modern depictions is that of a sort of flighty man who loved animals – a “live and let live” type – who went about saying nice things, was a bit unkempt and dirty, couldn’t be bothered with “details” like beautiful churches, and, well, just liked to stop and smell the roses…
Maybe it would be a good idea for all of us to read a little more about his life and discover him for the serious and substantial saint that he was and is.
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!