Everybody is talking about the 'real' St. Francis - reminding little kids and their pets that he was as 'nice' as people say he was. These people are very much like the Grinch who tell kids there is no Santa - and yet - there is. His name was St. Nicholas and he helped little kids escape death, and helped girls escape prostitution, and helped innumerable other outcasts with charitable gifts - not gifs. But I digress.
Yes kids. Francis was rich, then he chose to be poor, just like Christ. He really was poor - but people online say that is wrong - his poverty was something mystical and he wouldn't mind if his followers wore really nice clothes under their really nice habits and living in really nice friaries and driving really nice cars, and so on. In a strange way - those who say he was 'not nice' are right - because he didn't like their brand of nice ...
Not only was he poor, but he was deeply respectful of the Church and her ministers - and of course the liturgy - so yes indeed he loved beautiful churches, exquisite sanctuaries, and beautiful vestments. He also once ordered the friars to give a poor woman their only copy of the New Testament, so that the woman might sell it. He loved Lady Poverty because Christ chose it for himself.
As for his respect for the 'Lord Pope' and the ministers of the Church, I will share something the Pope said:
Let us return to the life of St Francis. When his father Bernardone reproached him for being too generous to the poor, Francis, standing before the Bishop of Assisi, in a symbolic gesture, stripped off his clothes, thus showing he renounced his paternal inheritance. Just as at the moment of creation, Francis had nothing, only the life that God gave him, into whose hands he delivered himself. He then lived as a hermit, until, in 1208, another fundamental step in his journey of conversion took place. While listening to a passage from the Gospel of Matthew Jesus' discourse to the apostles whom he sent out on mission Francis felt called to live in poverty and dedicate himself to preaching. Other companions joined him, and in 1209 he travelled to Rome, to propose to Pope Innocent III the plan for a new form of Christian life. He received a fatherly welcome from that great Pontiff, who, enlightened by the Lord, perceived the divine origin of the movement inspired by Francis. The Poverello of Assisi understood that every charism as a gift of the Holy Spirit existed to serve the Body of Christ, which is the Church; therefore he always acted in full communion with the ecclesial authorities. In the life of the Saints there is no contradiction between prophetic charism and the charism of governance, and if tension arises, they know to patiently await the times determined by the Holy Spirit.
It is also true that Francis had no intention of creating a new Order, but solely that of renewing the People of God for the Lord who comes. He understood, however, through suffering and pain that everything must have its own order and that the law of the Church is necessary to give shape to renewal. Thus he placed himself fully, with his heart, in communion with the Church, with the Pope and with the Bishops. He always knew that the centre of the Church is the Eucharist, where the Body of Christ and his Blood are made present through the priesthood, the Eucharist and the communion of the Church. Wherever the priesthood and the Eucharist and the Church come together, it is there alone that the word of God also dwells. The real historical Francis was the Francis of the Church, and precisely in this way he continues to speak to non-believers and believers of other confessions and religions as well.
Innocent III's Successor, Pope Honorius III, with his Bull Cum Dilecti in 1218 supported the unique development of the first Friars Minor, who started missions in different European countries, and even in Morocco. In 1219 Francis obtained permission to visit and speak to the Muslim sultan Malik al-Klmil, to preach the Gospel of Jesus there too. I would like to highlight this episode in St Francis' life, which is very timely. In an age when there was a conflict underway between Christianity and Islam, Francis, intentionally armed only with his faith and personal humility, travelled the path of dialogue effectively. The chronicles tell us that he was given a benevolent welcome and a cordial reception by the Muslim Sultan. It provides a model which should inspire today's relations between Christians and Muslims: to promote a sincere dialogue, in reciprocal respect and mutual understanding (cf. Nostra Aetate, 3). - Pope Benedict XVI
In his day, when bishops and priests scandalized the faithful, many openly criticized and spread stories about the sins of priests. One story in particular is well known. Villagers approached St. Francis, scandalized by a priest, and Francis knelt before the priest with great reverence, saying:
"I don't know whether these hands are stained as the other man says they are. [But] I do know that even if they are, that in no way lessens the power and effectiveness of the sacraments of God... That is why I kiss these hands out of respect for what they perform and out of respect for Him who gave His authority to them." - St. Francis
Francis never criticized the Church, the Pope or the clergy. He never acted on his own initiative or on private revelations. He submitted to the authority of the Church, he never did anything without permission. So that, my friends is the real St. Francis. He also loved lambs and wolves and rabbits, kitties and puppies, birds and squirrels - he placed special food out for them at Christmas. So don't spoil the legends which surround him with your mean-spirited 'truth in charity' stories.
Happy feast day!
He really did embrace