Book: Son Though He Was - The Young St. Francis of Assisi by Raymond Windcategories: Book, St. Francis, Catholic, Christian, Holy Bible, St. Claire, Francis of Assisi
Raymond Windabout this book: Now a teenager, Francesco works along with his brother ANGELO and his father selling cloth. True to his father's words, he wants for nothing. He dresses lavishly. When his friends call, he shirks work to carouse, leaving his brother behind despite his wanting to join them. One friend, PAOLO, especially goads Francesco to revels. His father reprimands his son for his extravagant spending—he has no regard for money, spending all he makes on clothes and eating with friends. His mother says he's more a prince than a son, but believes one day he will become a good Christian.
During one such indulgence with friends, Francesco passes lepers begging for alms. His revulsion is apparent, and him and his friends, led by Paolo, mock them and turn to avoid them, holding their noses as they go. It is here Francesco sees a woman, her sister, and their handmaids pass. This is Lady CLARA, the daughter of a COUNT. They exchange looks. He watches her as she goes, and is astounded when she stops to attend to the lepers.
Clara returns home to find her father angered at her and her sister's absence. He tells Clara he will begin looking for a suitable match for her, which Clara objects to strenuously, saying she's too young and has no desire to marry. She informs her family that she has other, more-pressing concerns.
There is trouble brewing in Assisi. The townspeople rebel against the nobility and sack the castle perched on the hills above the town. Francesco and his friends join in. Upon their return, they celebrate their victory with a lavish banquet. Francesco is reprimanded by his father who believes such insurrections are bad for his business, but doesn't acknowledge Angelo who has been working steadfast all along. The resentment in Francesco's brother grows.
Life returns to normal in Assisi. One morning at breakfast, Clara hides her meal in the folds of her clothing. Her father has news about potential matches for her, which Clara listens to in silence. When her father leaves, she excuses herself, and along with her younger sister, CATERINA, they tell their mother they are going for their usual morning walk.
Coming home after an evening of revelry with his friends, Francesco again spots a leper in the street, and again he sees Clara attending to him, offering him the food she has taken from her own plate. He watches her, and they exchange looks: Francesco nods in greeting, Clara merely scowls at his impertinence. As she and her sister walk through the streets towards their home, Francesco appears, demanding to know why she associates with those he finds so wretched. Clara hurries away, but Francesco persists. She explains how there is far greater wealth one should aspire to than gold. The two sisters hurry away, leaving Francesco confused by her words.
Francesco works at his father's market stall, and since new cloth has arrived, it is crowded with customers. A Beggar approaches Francesco, and he summarily sends him away, much to the amusement of his father, his friends, and his customers. All but Alberto who sees his brother's actions as another way to draw attention to himself. Francesco sees Clara again, watching him, displeased at his actions. He extricates himself from those around him and searches for her, but she's nowhere to be found. He does see the Beggar, however, hobbling away. Francesco gives the man everything in his pockets. Upon his return, his friends mock him for his charity. His father's enraged when he hears what his son has done. He makes Francesco promise to concern himself solely with business and leave charity to him. His mother disagrees, but holds her tongue.
War is declared between Assisi and Perugia. Against Francesco's father and mother's wishes, each for different reasons, Francesco and his friends join the fight. Alberto is entreated by Francesco to join them, but refuses, preferring to remain with the family business, hoping to gain his father's approval. They march out of the town to the cheers of the townspeople and under the watchful eye of Lady Clara. Francesco turns to her, searching for any sign of sympathy towards him. Despite her stern look, she signs the cross to wish him safe passage and nods to him. Francesco is elated.
Francesco is captured and imprisoned; Paolo as well. Their other friends have been killed. Despite the harsh conditions, Francesco remains optimistic, earning the scorn of his fellow prisoners, including Paolo at first. But Francesco persists and even befriends a disagreeable KNIGHT who the other prisoners shun because they blame him for their capture, causing Paolo to remark in admiration that Francesco listens to those to whom God himself won't listen.
Finally, Francesco is released from captivity and returns home a young man where he is bedridden with illness. Suffering through feverish visions, weakened to a point near death, he fights and slowly recovers. He turns to family for the answers he yearns for, but finds none there. His friends all but abandon him when he is no longer able to support and participate in their pleasures. He takes to walking alone in nature.
One day as he sits contemplating, birds gather around him. He's amazed. When he speaks, they scatter, and he quickly realizes he's meant to listen to their song. He sits in silence and they return, gathering around him and alighting on his shoulders and outstretched hand. Their song brings him great joy, one he has never experienced.
During one such walk, he chances upon Lady Clara and her retinue. He playfully chides her that he doesn't see her lepers. She takes offence and hurries away. He realizes the slight and hurries after her, apologizing, and asking her again about her motives for helping the sick. She believes he's mocking her and he promises her he isn't and he'll be as attentive as he is to birds and their songs. Slowly she explains her beliefs. He can't fail but see the supreme kindness in her eyes. Paolo arrives and catches him looking after Lady Clara. Paolo asks if he's thinking about marrying, and Francesco replies, "Yes. To Lady Poverty."
Well enough to return to his father's market stall, Francesco goes through the motions selling cloth. He's now sickened by his father's love for gold. He realizes that pleasures lead to nothing. That evening, his father proudly discusses with his son how now's the time for Francesco to take over the family business. Francesco's not so sure. Angelo is jealous of his father's offer, and angered that he isn't the one his father has chosen.
One night, Francesco dreams of the spears and shields of great knights. On waking, he tells his brother he believes his dream is a vision, but Angelo dismisses it out-of-hand. Later, Angelo confides to their mother that Francesco's mind may still be ill and campaigns for him to be sent away, something she refuses to hear mention of. That very day, the Knight Francesco was imprisoned with passes through Assisi and stops at the market stall to see him. The Knight explains he's joining the papal forces in their war against Frederik, the Roman Emperor. Francesco believes this is what his vision wants him to do: join the Knight and fight. He runs around making preparations, including purchasing extravagant equipment and saying goodbye to family and friends. He even seeks out Clara to bid her farewell. As he's about to leave, he sees the Knight has so little, so he gives him all the equipment, content to ride off to war with nothing. Ever enthusiastic, he declares he'll return a great prince.
Clara returns from attending to the poor and sick only to find her father waiting for her. He informs her a match has been found and she's to marry within the fortnight. He commands that arrangements be made. Clara tries to object, but is quickly silenced by her stern father. Her mother tries to intervene, but she, too, is silenced. They are told that duty to family must win out.
Days pass. Then Francesco rides back into town, a shell of whom he was. He collapses at his father's stall, and despite entreaties to tell them what happened, he says nothing. The townspeople are wary: later his own brother spreads the rumor that Francesco has deserted, returning to Assisi a coward. His mother and father, however, refuse to believe it.
Francesco moons about in the streets of Assisi, then in the surrounding countryside. He sees Clara, but hides from her, unable to approach her. He refuses to work in the shop, exacerbating the strained relationship with his father and brother.
Clara stops by the family's market stall, ostensibly to buy cloth, and enquires about news of Francesco and the war. Alberto relishes in telling her how he has returned a coward, quickly admonished by his father, this time not as convincingly. Pietro tells her how his son has rejected his former life, preferring to wander through Assisi as a madman. Clara's shock quickly melts to concern and compassion. She tells her handmaids to find out which route Francesco takes each day. They raise their eyebrows, reminding her she is to marry another; she insists she has a pressing matter of which to speak to him.
On his walk through the nearby countryside, Francesco chances upon the remains of San Damiano, a church long abandoned. He goes inside and putters around the neglected chapel. His eyes are drawn to the crucifix of Christ—so intently that he suddenly loses all strength and falls to his knees.
Just then Clara enters. Her sister and handmaids wait outside. She walks towards Francesco, calling his name. No response. She reaches him and touches him on the shoulder. Nothing. He bows his head and says a prayer. When he stands and turns to her, his face radiates—his smile's more serene than it has ever been, his eyes more gentle. He greets Clara in the name of God.
Sitting outside San Damiano, Clara asks why Francesco has returned to Assisi so abruptly. He explains how he heard God's voice tell him to come back. Clara's skeptical. She asks about his health, telling him how people believe him to be mad. Francesco asks her who told her such a thing, and while she doesn't answer, she looks over at the handmaids and her sister who are glaring at him. Francesco laughs and proceeds to tell her that God has spoken to him again, this time telling him to rebuild His church. "His church?" she asks. Francesco sweeps an arm towards San Damiano. He tells her his life now has meaning.
Weeks pass. San Damiano already shows signs of being revitalized. In a busy street of Assisi, Francesco speaks to all who pass about God and the virtues of a humble, penniless life in service to others. While some stop to listen, others deride and mock him. Francesco persists. Clara's handmaids pass and stop to listen. One of them commands the other to fetch Lady Clara. When she arrives, she's pained by the mockery Francesco endures. She listens to him speak and is enchanted by his conviction and sincerity. When he is knocked over by a passing cart, she goes to his aid, much to her handmaids' shock, and administers to him. He calls her a "chosen soul." She vows to help him in his calling.
The poor begin to show up at San Damiano seeking help. Francesco and Clara offer food and clothing. As more appear, Francesco rides back to the town and his father's stall and gathers up the finest cloth despite his brother's objections, and quickly sells it to another merchant at a loss. Alberto races to find his father. Francesco then goes to purchase food, but is stopped by his father who is incensed at his actions. He publicly beats the young man. He's dragged home where he is imprisoned by his father.
When his father leaves, Francesco's mother releases him. He immediately returns to San Damiano. When his father returns, he races to the church, vowing to bring Francesco back, or, failing that, driving him out of Assisi for good.
At San Damiano, Pietro sees his son administering to the poor. He demands Francesco to come away from such people. He refuses. His father then demands he return his money, clothes, and horse, which Francesco does willingly, leaving him naked. One of the poor covers him up with a blanket. Indignant, Pietro renounces Francesco as his son, while Francesco pledges allegiance to his Heavenly Father. Pietro stomps off.
Meanwhile, Clara's wedding approaches. She argues with her father who insists she does not know her own mind. Clara explains her conviction to serving others and her religion, even her pious mother can't help but agree with her daughter, but the father will hear nothing of it. Later she confides in Caterina that she will not marry and will run away. She sends her sister to Francesco to aid her.
Francesco is called before the Bishop for a legal hearing. Pietro believes his son still has money and wants it all back. Both Francesco's mother and brother are in attendance. As the charge is being read, Francesco enters and interrupts to renounce his inheritance, shocking his family. The Bishop questions Francesco's motivations, asking if he will continue what he's doing at San Damiano, even if the Church forbids him. Francesco approaches the Bishop and respectfully kisses the man's hand. Then he tells him that while he means no disrespect or disobedience, he will continue to do as God's told him to and follow Christ's most fundamental teachings. He leaves, stopping to kiss his mother goodbye as she weeps, and to tell his brother he now has all he's ever wanted, as little as that now seems to Francesco. He then tells his father he forgives him, even moving to kiss the man goodbye, which his father recoils from.
The next night, Clara bids her sister goodbye and escapes her home. She flees into the woods and is received by the light of torches and Francesco. At San Damiano, an ersatz marriage takes place. Clara lays aside her rich clothes and Francis tenderly cuts her hair. She dresses in rough tunic and a veil, and pledges herself to Christ.
In the days to follow, more people arrive at San Damiano, the poor and those wanting to help. Even the Knight returns pledging to protect Francesco and his charges. Unbeknownst to Francesco, Clara welcomes lepers.
Francesco preaches in the streets of Assisi where he is met with scorn--he's called a madman , followed, and mocked. He remains deaf to the abuse. Francesco's friend Paolo shows up, protecting Francesco, then asking what he can do. They warmly embrace.
Back at San Damiano, Caterina shows up, telling her sister that she also has run away and wants to help.
On his return, Francesco is met by Clara who tells him about the lepers. He is angered, races into the church, and all eyes are on him as he sees the lowest of the low ostracized on one side of the church by the poor and those who would help. Clara immediately goes to her charges, protective of them, defying Francesco to cast them out. He melts at the sight. He walks over and welcomes the inflicted, even kissing one leper's hand as he did the Bishop's.
Angry at having lost two of his daughters, Clara's father and several relations and armed followers show up at San Damiano to force Caterina to return home. The Count tells Clara how she has shamed the family by her refusal to marry and that he is here only to save Caterina. Clara intervenes and her disobedience angers the man further. He draws his sword to strike his daughter, but his arm drops to his side, withered and useless. The others drag Caterina out of the monastery by her hair, striking her and kicking her repeatedly. Her body becomes heavy as Clara holds her back--she becomes immovable. The relatives realize that something divine protects her and run away. Francesco returns to find the Count disowning his children and blaming Francesco, vowing vengeance. When the man is gone, Francesco cuts Caterina's hair as he did Clara's, and gives her the same clothes.
Late one night, Alberto appears at San Damiano asking to speak with his brother. Francesco believes his brother has seen the light, but when Alberto coldly offers Francesco money and fine silk to sell for the poor, he questions his brother's motives. Alberto doesn't answer. Alberto moves to leave, but stops. He turns to warn his brother: the townspeople are being rallied against Francesco. He's being called a heretic, and their father has appealed to the Bishop to put an end to his mission. The Count is behind a move to cite Francesco with corrupting youth, specifically Clara and Caterina. Ominously, Alberto tells Francesco that there are even calls to burn him as a heretic. Francesco worries about the safety of the poor and sick, but Alberto tells him they only want him and anyone who is foolhardy to dare stand with him.
Francesco wakens the others, commanding them to ready themselves to follow him or return to Assisi and safety. The poor, the sick, and the lepers are prepared to go back to Assisi as Francesco's followers ready themselves to go with him.
At first light, the poor, the sick, and the lepers begin making their way back to Assisi. Francesco leads the others away from the town. As they leave, Clara and Caterina look back at the unfortunate stumbling through the dim light and have a change of heart. Clara tells Francesco she won't be leaving. Her place is with the less fortunate. Francesco protests, but she makes him understand. They bid each other goodbye, pledging to be with each other again, no matter where or when.
As Francesco walks on, clearly upset, Paolo asks him where they are going. He says to Rome to petition Pope Innocent III for approval. He now sees that his interpretation of his vision is wrong: God does not want him to rebuild just one building, he wanted him to rebuild the entire Catholic Church according to one rule: To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.
Clara watches Francesco and the others fade into the distance. As she turns back to the church, a Beggar with a staff hobbles by. Clara welcomes him to San Damiano, but even though the man pauses for a moment, he continues on without a word after Francesco and the others.
The sun rises over the hills, silhouetting Francesco and his followers, as Clara and Caterina watch them walk on.
Closing titles explain how Francesco succeeded in establishing the Franciscan Order and the Order of Poor Ladies led by Lady Clara. He is canonized by the Vatican as St. Francis, as were Clara and Caterina as St. Clare and St. Agnes respectively. Amen!
Thank You Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
This book is dedicated to Father Mychal Judge, OFM!
If you believe that our Father is calling you, please contact the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal: 212.234.9089
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