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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

October 3, 2007

St. Francis: A Change of Plans

Most teens know of several friends or acquaintances who deviated from the plans their parents had for them. Perhaps they have witnessed situations like these:

the coach’s son who no longer likes sports;
the doctor’s daughter who gags at the sight of blood;
* the business owner’s children who revolt at working in the family business.

This final example comes closest to describing the troubles Peter Bernardone had with his son, Francis. October 4 is the Feast Day of St. Francis.

A rich, clothing merchant living in Assisi, Italy, in the early thirteenth century, Peter planned for his son to work with him and eventually succeed him in business. About the age 20, Francis began to move off course.

First, he joined the military. As a knight, he fought in one losing battle for Assisi, was captured by the opposing army, and kept in a dungeon for several months. When he finally returned home, Francis’ mother and father spoiled him more than ever. His dad gave him money to spend and encouraged Francis to recuperate by partying in the evenings with his boyhood friends. Once healed, Francis grew restless again and headed to southern Italy to continue his military career. On one of his first nights away, as Francis camped in a desolate spot, he heard a voice ask him, “Who can do more for you, the servant or the master?” Francis answered, “The master, of course.” The voice responded, “Then why are you devoting your life to the servant.”

Francis understood the “Master” to be Christ, and he returned home.

From that point on the parties didn’t seem to have the same excitement for Francis. His friends assumed he must be in love and planning to marry. “Who is she?” one of them questioned as Francis stood out on a balcony gazing up to the sky. “She whom I shall marry is so noble, so rich, so fair, and so wise, that not one of you has seen her like,” he answered. Francis was talking about Lady Poverty, to whom he would soon make a lifelong commitment while taking a retreat in a nearby mountain cave.

Things were now happening rapidly to Francis. Soon after making his promise, Francis passed by an old chapel, St. Damian, on the outskirts of town. Again, Francis heard a voice: “Go and repair my church, which as you can see is falling into ruin.”

Francis took the message literally, not realizing that he would eventually help to repair the worldwide Church. Francis usually would ask his father for money, but his father was out of town, so Francis took some of his best cloth materials and exchanged them for gold. He then went back to St. Damian’s and began his restoration work. (The priest there refused the money.)

Peter Bernardone was furious when he discovered what Francis had done. He retrieved Francis and had him chained in his cellar. Only when Peter went on another business trip did Francis’ mother release him. He went back to St. Damian’s and completed his work.

Finally, when Francis showed up again in town, Peter had his son arrested. Francis would agree only to a trial before the local bishop. When the bishop told Francis to pay his father back, Francis not only gave him his money, but he stripped himself of his clothes and left them right in the middle of the town square. “Now I will be able to call God my Father, not Peter Bernardone,” Francis told everyone.

Eventually, Francis’ love for Lady Poverty attracted eleven other men from Assisi to follow him. There were thousands of Franciscans by the time of his death, including a Franciscan order for women founded by his friend, St. Clare. Whether Francis eventually reconciled with his father we do not know.

We do know that the sincerity of St. Francis’ life has won many converts in the years since he lived on earth.

Discussion Questions
What do you want for your future?
What do your parents want for your future?
Pretend you heard a voice tell you to “build up the Church.” What would that mean for you?

Additional Lessons and Activities
Research and share other important events in the life of St. Francis, for example, his encounter with a leper, the organization of the Franciscans, his friendship with St. Clare, his meeting with the pope, his missionary trip to Egypt, and his reception of the stigmata prior to his death.

Discuss the Church’s teaching on “preferential love” for the poor as summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2448.

Talk over other sources of conflict between teens and parents, and possible solutions.

Give each person five small strips of paper, numbered 1 to 5. Ask them to print the names of their five most prized possessions, one on each strip, with their most prized possession on strip 1. Have the participants meet with a partner and fan out their strips, blank side showing. Instruct each person to pick one strip from his or her partner. Then have the two discuss how they would feel if they really lost that possession. Continue in the same way until all the strips have been drawn and discussed.

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