Growing up in Assisi
By: Rich Atkinson
October 9, 2011
Today to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis, most churches will remember Francis by talking about birds or quoting a bit of poetry which he really never wrote. And so I would like to do something a little different, no birds, no poetry, rather something which most have never heard, a story about his very early life... And to tell the story, I would like for you to pretend for a short time, that I am St. Francis and we have just met...
I would like to tell you a little about my youth in Assisi...
When I was an about this high, I saw in the square of my city, a knight. He was higher than any man I ever saw, as he was on a great horse. The knight shined because of his armor, even his horse shined with the glint of steel. He had the admiration of everyone, including me. From that moment, I knew I wanted to be just like him.
I had begged my father to buy me both armor and a warhorse for years, first as a child, then as a young man, but my father just wanted me to sell cloth like him and continue the family business instead. But one day my opportunity arrived. Perigee, the city near us was about to attack my city, Assisi. My dream was fulfilled! Finally I received my armor... and admiration.
We rode on, ready to kill to defend our honor... But my plan for glory was dashed! I was taken prisoner and thrown in a dungeon. I was in that dungeon for a year until a ransom was paid by my father. A long time to think... But after my release, the opportunity to be a knight came once more. And once more, I was ready to kill...
But a very unusual thing happened to me. On the first night of my ridding out, I had a dream, and in my dream a voice said something like "Why do you follow something less than the Lord, go back to your town and it will be told you what you are to do" So I returned to Assisi.
I told people of my dream, that I believed it was God who gave me these instructions. I expected them to rejoice with me, but instead they called me coward, liar and even pelted me with filth. They in fact, drove me out of town, and I began to live outside or in ruined church buildings. And it was in one of those buildings, I heard the voice again, this time to go and repair the church. Not knowing this had a far greater meaning than I could imagine, I simply went to buy mortar and stone, but having no money of my own, I stole a horse and bolts of fine cloth from my father and sold them. When he found out he wanted to send me to prison again. I appealed to the Bishop for help. Of course, the Bishop told me to return everything I had stolen, which I did, with all the other things my father gave me, down to my shirt and shoes! I was now penniless, but free, and I left Assisi like a bird escaping from a cage!
As I walked into the woods, I ran into three men, I thought "a symbol of the Holy Trinity to greet me" how wonderful! They asked me who I was and I said "the Herald of the great King."
At this point they beat me up, tried to find money to rob me and finding none, kicked me into a ditch full of snow, where I lay unable to move.
When I was able to move I was freezing and needed clothing, knowing there was a monastery near by, walked to it and spent several days as a kitchen worker, where I was paid with soup. I spent about four days there, freezing as they did not have any clothes to give me and all I had was a ripped shirt and it was winter.
I remembered I had a friend in a nearby city who might be able to help...he was not rich, but he rarely locked his door...or heart. He was accessible.
By this time you must be thinking, how does this relate to me in the 21st century? Or how could I apply this to my life in San Rafael? Even scripture if not applied seems to become just pretty words, just another nice story... so let me try to give it life...
First of all, beware of things that shine, whether a suit of armor or some thing sitting in a driveway. Either could be costly, dangerous and the admiration it receives is fleeting.
Secondly, if you believe you have heard our Lord speak to you about something, don't expect others to honor you. Perhaps it is better to expect ridicule. Maybe you will be tossed in a ditch.
And lastly, sometimes you will not be supported by those you expected aid from. Like those who call themselves pious or devout
But what about that person who in the end gave clothing to Francis? Who was he? In all the books about Francis, in all the stories told, this person has no name. All we know about him is that he lived in a certain city, Gubbio. His name is lost to history. So what I would like to do on this Feast Day of St. Francis, is give him a name. I would like to give him your name. You can become this person. You don't need to be a certain age, have certain schooling or own much. You just need to unlock your heart to those in need around you.
And that is what I believe Francis should is truly all about, not poetry or even birds, but allowing the Divine locksmith to unlock our hearts. To be available. To love. May our Lord grant us that name.