It seems everybody loves Saint Francis. But few really know him. We like our garden statues of a somber man holding a bird, but this is not the real Francis of Assisi from the 12th Century.
Instead, picture an energetic and jovial little man, known in his day as “God’s Jongluer.” Before coming to Christ he sang and danced at wild parties.
As Christ’s disciple St. Francis is a spiritual minstrel. He delights people with his joyful songs of praise to God. Imagine him skipping and singing down the narrow cobblestone streets of Assisi. Perhaps there are hanging flowers baskets outside the homes and shops as there were when Kristi and I visited this charming, ancient town in the springtime.
He smiles warmly at everyone he meets as he skips along and sings:
Let us love the Lord God!
By His mercy to us in Christ, He saved us!
He alone is holy and just.
He alone is delectable and sweet.
God is the fullness of all good!
St. Francis spreads the joy of the Lord to people, not just on bright sunny days, but also in dark trials. He called this “following in Christ’s footprints” to do good to all people, even those who mistreat us, in order to demonstrate to them the gospel of the Lord (1 Peter 2:20-21).
In this way Francis preached without words, letting his life speak. Like when
- He’s abused and imprisoned by his father and turns his dungeon into a place of blessed prayer.
- He’s hungry and gives away his meal to a poor beggar.
- Pulling a cart like a slave, he’s ridiculed as he begs for stones, but he persists in order to rebuild the town chapel.
- Robbers prevail on his home and he serves them a banquet.
- Swarmed my mice for seven weeks, he hears God’s voice and finds sweet satisfaction in His presence.
- He encounters a vicious wolf and wins him over with the kindness of Christ.
- Betrayed by his assistant, he loses his position of leadership over the 5,000 brothers in his community and still he blesses them all.
- He’s ready to walk into a furnace of fire to share the love of Christ with Muslims.
- Lying on his deathbed in great pain, he sings his famous hymn, known to us as “All Creatures of Our God and King.”
In fact, like Jesus himself, St. Francis and his friars were known for very short sermons. They focused on manifesting God’s presence through acts of charity and prayers of blessing.
One time St. Francis actually preached a sermon without any words at all!
He led a prayer service for his beloved soul friend Clare, who was in charge of at the San Damiano Chapel he rebuilt, and the other sisters in the convent. Francis knelt down at the altar and raised his eyes to heaven in quiet prayer…
Then he put ashes on his head and sprinkled them in a circle round about himself…
Again he kneeled to pray in quiet, seeking God’s mercy by silently reciting Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God…”
That was the entire church service!
“Preach the Gospel always — when necessary use words.” When we hear this famous saying of Saint Francis or see a statute of him let’s urge ourselves with his life’s ambition and joy: “Follow in Christ’s footprints!”
Many say that Clare followed Francis’ teachings even better than he did.
Like St. Francis, St Clare of Assisi left behind precious few writings and prayers. Mostly, what we have are stories and letters from people who knew them. My favorite writing of Clare’s is a prayer that comes from a letter she wrote to Blessed Agnes. I’ve called it “Following in Christ’s Footprints.”
When I pray this Footprints Prayer I recall visiting St. Clare’s beautiful garden at the center of her convent at the San Damiano Chapel.
Follow in Christ’s Footprints
By St. Clare of Assisi (12th Cent)*
Only one thing is necessary:
Always hold the hand of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
Never abandoning your heavenly King and Lord.
Follow in His footprints
With ready pace, light step, and unswerving feet,
So your steps stir up no dust.
Go forward with Him who is your Spouse,
Readily, securely, and joyfully
On the path of prudent happiness.
Be careful to agree with nothing
Which would dissuade you from your intentions
Or place a stumbling block on the way.
Keep pursuing the call of the Spirit of the Lord;
By always holding fast to His footprints
You will be adorned with the splendors of His virtue.
Listen to Soul Talks:
Bill shares about his relationship with his dad. He and Kristi talk about St. Francis’ father wound and how he became a wounded healer for Christ.
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St. Francis prayer of praise “Let us love the Lord God” is from “The Earlier Rule” in chapter 23. See Francis and Clare: The Complete Works, published by Paulist Press in 1982, pp. 132-133.
The illustrations of St. Francis’ life are from St. Francis of Assisi: A Biography by Omer Englebert.
“Follow in Christ’s Footprints” by St. Clare is paraphrased by Bill Gaultiere from “The Second Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague” in Francis and Clare: The Complete Works, pp. 195-196.