St. Francis was born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone. I love the Italian language! John Francis of Bernard just doesn't sound as romantic or poetic in English as it does in Italian. Many of the images and portrayals of St. Francis are romantic as well and one might believe that walking the cold rainy winter streets of Umbria barefoot and hungry in order to be in solidarity with the poor could actually be fun! Most of us would have trouble finding joy in living that kind of life voluntarily or otherwise. Francis felt a certain closeness to the poor, a desire to live with and in the same manner as the poor To his peers he must have appeared like he'd lost his senses! But it wasn't always that way for Francis. As the saying goes, every saint has a past.
Francis is said to have been spoiled by his parents, a product of his wealthy upbringing. He enjoyed the good life when he was young: lavish food, finely woven clothes, lots of partying with his friends and even aspirations of glory in a military career. In other words, no different than anybody else his age and in his circumstances. Just when he had his whole future ahead of him, God started picking away at his heart. God does that. It's usually not something we want expect. Responding to that picking often means giving something up...basically our selves, our egos, what we thought would bring happiness in exchange for living to be the person God plans for us to be. Responding is often how we begin to discover true happiness and it often makes no sense to the rest of the world. Francis embracing a leper for instance made little sense from an intellectual point of view. He admitted his own disgust at just the sight of the leper, but he couldn't help himself. Because God was picking away at him, pushing him out of his comfort zone. God worked on Francis until he had a wholly different opinion of what it takes to live a happy life. So much so, that he gathered others to do the same, to open their hearts to God and do things that don't make sense to the rest of the world...and they did! I feel pretty sure Francis didn't choose his lifestyle because he wanted to be known for inventing the creche, or so he could end up on millions of prayer cards and wall hangings or have churches named after him.
But every sinner has a future (thanks be to God). All I have to do to realize God's future for me is to say "Yes" and give in to God, without looking back at what I'm afraid I'll miss, and with no concern for orchestrating my own future. It doesn't sound very romantic and I'll probably have to start over every morning...or every hour! St. Ignatius said that he thought of himself a complete obstacle to the work God was trying to do in him. As modern day Christians we all struggle, but if we'll look to the saints, we'll realize we're in good company!