Times Past

St. Francis of Assisi is remembered for his compassion and hospitality

St. Francis is depicted feeding the poor in "The Miracle of St. Francis," a 13th century triptych.
St. Francis is depicted feeding the poor in "The Miracle of St. Francis," a 13th century triptych.

“Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.”

Rule 53 from the Rule of St. Benedict has its origins in the beginning of Christian monastic orders in the 6th century. The rule played a major role in the new order established by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century.

Christians and non-Christians regard St. Francis of Assisi as such a saint. His love of all God's creation makes him a very special human being.

Francis was born in 1181 during the beginning of the age of troubadours. His ways of love and dedication to his God quickly became the stuff that the poets sang about.

This folklore was eventually written down in Latin and translated into medieval Italian as the Fioretti or The Little Flowers of St. Francis.

St. Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant in the town of Assisi. The town was located in the rugged mountains 80 miles north of Rome.

One day Francis saw a leper in the forest outside of Assisi. At first, Francis drew back in fear. Victims of leprosy were objects of great dread in medieval and early modern society. They were required to carry a wooden bell or clacker, singing out “Beware . . . Leprosy . . . Beware.”

Then Francis decided that he must embrace the thing that he feared most. Only then would he be without worry or terror.

Francis began to hug the mangled limbs and withered body of the leper. Only at that moment did he realize that he was embracing Christ Jesus.

Francis parted ways with his family and renounced his inheritance. He lived in a state of abject poverty, begging for his food. He expressed his suffering in the language of courtly love. He thanked “Brother Flea” for biting him and reminding him of the suffering of Christ. He similarly thanked “Brother Sun” for burning his skin and “Sister Moon” for providing light with which to wander through the night.

Above all, Francis embraced “Lady Poverty” with the demeanor of a well-mannered knight errant.

Soon Francis was joined by seven disciples. They lived communally in the Portiuncula (“The Little Portion”) near Assisi’s leper colony. The group began to call themselves “the little brothers.” Francis sought approval for the group from Church authorities.

The group became the “Order of the Little Brothers” or the order of “Friars Minor.” That's why even today there’s an “O.F.M.” after the name of members of the order.

Hospitality, even for the brothers who had to beg for their own food, was essential to the group who welcomed weary travelers and refugees.

During the Second World War, the town of Assisi witnessed a similarly rare but wonderfully beautiful event. All 28 convents and monasteries hid Jewish refugees from the wrathful eyes of Hitler's Gestapo.

Liz and I reflect on this example as we witness the refugee children at our nation’s borders. What would St. Francis who embraced the leper do?

Eventually the “Little Brothers” became one of the largest religious movements within the Christian church. Some of the successors to St. Francis came to California in 1769. Here they were noted for their hospitality to travelers and strangers.

You can share some of this hospitality of the mission era at “La Mesa de las Padres,” “the table of the padres.” The historically themed “California Dreaming” dinner, served in our restored San Luis Obispo Mission Hall, was begun in the 1990s to support the conservation of the historic features of our mission.

Come and support our mission on Saturday, Aug. 16. Call 781-8220 for tickets.