Saint Francis of Assisi
And because it grew from love the smile of Saint Francis was a wonderful thing. It opened the hearts of men and coaxed the secrets of their thoughts. It led human folk whithersoever Saint Francis willed. It drew the beasts to his side and the birds to nestle in his bosom. It was like a magic charm.
Great princes knew his smile and they obeyed its command to be generous and good. The sick and sorrowful knew his smile. It meant healing and comfort. Then they rose and blessed God in the name of Saint Francis. The wretched beggars in the streets of Assisi knew it. To them the smile of "the Lord's own beggar" meant help and sympathy. Like them he was poor and homeless, often ill and hungry. They wondered that he could smile. But he said, "It does not become a servant of God to have an air of melancholy and a face full of trouble." So they also tried to smile, poor fellows. But how different it was!
The little lambs to whom he gave his special protection and care knew the smile of Saint Francis. Once he met two woolly lambkins who were being carried to market. He never had any money, but taking off his cloak, which was all he had to part with, he gave it to buy their lives. And he carried the lambs home in his bosom.
The wilder beasts beyond the mountains, the fierce wolves and shy foxes of Syria and Spain whom he met in his wanderings knew Saint Francis. Here was a brother who was not afraid of them and whom they could trust in return, a brother who understood and sympathized. The birds in the trees knew also, and his coming was the signal of peace. Then they sang with Francis, but he was the sweetest singer of them all.
Besides these living things the green fields of Italy, the trees, the meadows, the brooks, the flowers all knew the smile of Saint Francis. It meant to them many things which only a poet can tell. But Francis understood, for he was a poet.
Upon all alike his face of love beamed tenderly. For Saint Francis of Assisi was a little brother of the whole great world and of all created things. Not only did his heart warm to Brother Sheep and Sister Bees, to his Brother Fish and his little Sisters the Doves, but he called the Sun and Wind his brothers and the Moon and Water his sisters. Of all the saints about whom the legends tell, Francis was the gentlest and most loving. And if
"He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small,"
the prayers of Saint Francis must have been very dear to Him who "made and loveth all."
There was none so poor as Francis. Not a penny did he have, not a penny would he touch. Let them be given to those who could not smile, he said. His food he begged from door to door, broken crusts for a single poor meal; more he would not take. His sleeping place was the floor or the haymow, the ruined church, whatever lodging chance gave him. Oftenest he slept upon the bare ground with a stone for his pillow. He wanted to be poor because Christ was poor, and he was trying to live like his Master.
In his coarse brown gown, tied about the waist with a rope, without hat or shoes he wandered singing, smiling. The love which beamed from him like radiance from a star shone back from every pair of eyes which looked into his own. For all the world loved Francis in the time of the Crusades. And even to-day, seven hundred years since that dear beggar passed cheerily up and down the rough Italian roads — even to-day there are many who love him like a lost elder brother.
Saint Francis preached to all lessons of charity and peace. His were simple words, for he had not the wisdom of many books. But he knew the book of the human heart from cover to cover. His words were like fire, they warmed and wakened. No one could resist the entreaty and the love that was in them. So thousands joined the Society of Little Brothers of which he was the founder, and became his helpers in works of charity and holiness.