Saint Francis of Paola, Confessor
Paola, a small town in Calabria, a province of Naples, was the favored place where St. Francis, who is so celebrated on account if his miracles and virtues, was born. Hence, he is called St. Francis of Paola, to distinguish him from other saints who bear the name of Francis. His parents were not wealthy, but they were very pious. They had been married 16 years, and had no heir, when they made a vow, that if God would give them a son, they would devote him to the service of Religion in the order of St. Francis of Assisi. God heard their prayer, and they, therefore, gave the child the name of Francis. A bright flame was visible over the house of his virtuous parents at the time of the birth of this child of grace, and was considered a sign of his future sanctity.When Francis had reached his 13th year, his parents took him to the monastery in the city of St. Mark that he might in accordance with their vow serve the Franciscan priests living there. From this time, he accustomed himself to a very strict mode of living, which he ever afterwards observed. After a year, he went to a wilderness where he spent six entire years in continued prayer, great austerity and contemplation.He not only abstained from meat, but also from every other food which is pleasing to the taste. Hard bread or a few wild roots were his only food, water his only drink, and he usually partook of his scant repast only in the evening. His bed was a hard stone or the bare ground; he always went barefoot, and daily scourged himself most cruelly.
Several young men and a learned priest, having heard of the pious life led by St. Francis, came to him and requested to live under his spiritual guidance.He consulted God in the matter,and, being assured of the Divine will, he built a church and monastery, with the consent of the Bishop of Cosenza. He thus laid the foundation of a new and very strict order, whose members he desired to be called Minims or Lesser Friars. To the three usual vows he added another, which bound his religious to observe as strict a fast every day as the Church prescribes for Lent. Many miracles occurred while the church and monastery were being built. Once the workmen complained of having no water to quench their thirst; the Saint struck a rock which was near by with his cane and immediately the purest water came forth. On another occasion, the workmen informed him that the lime-kiln was in danger of bursting; the Saint made the sign of the cross,, went into the kiln, removed the danger and came forth uninjured. An immense mass of rock, having become detached from a neighboring mountain, threatened to rolldown upon the convent with great force and destroy it. The Saint in a loud voice commanded it to remain at rest and roll no farther; and it obeyed! He performed many similar miracles while building other monasteries. When he was called to Sicily to build a convent there, the seamen refused to take him on board their vessels unless he paid his fare. After having said a short prayer, the Saint spread his mantle upon the water and sat upon it with his companions and happily reached Sicily from Calabria.These things occurred in the presence of so many, that there could be no doubt of the miraculous power which Francis had received from God.
Having returned to his first monastery, he received orders from the Pope to go to Louis XL, King of France, who was very ill. Before fulfilling this command, he was obliged to visit the King of Naples, whose subjects were groaning under the weight of heavy taxes. The King offered him a dish full of gold pieces, telling him to employ them for the purpose of building new monasteries; but the Saint refused, saying he did not desire the sweat and blood of the subjects. Hereupon, he broke a piece of the money, and behold blood flowed from it. The King and his courtiers could not regard the spectacle without great horror. At Rome, St. Francis was received by the cardinals and even by the Pope himself with great marks of honor; but, as the latter refused to give his approbation to the above mentioned fourth vow, Francis took by the hand of a cardinal standing next to him and said: “If your Holiness will not do so, this person will.” This prophecy was actually fulfilled, as the same cardinal afterwards became Pope, and gave his sanction to the vow, and to all the regulations of the order.
After many similar wonderful events, he at length reached the Kingdom of France. Previous to seeing St. Francis, the King sent him many vessels of gold and silver to be employed in building new convents. But the Saint would not accept one of them, but replied: “The King would do better to restore his ill-gotten goods to their lawful owners.” He repeated these words also in the presence of the King, who offered St. Francis much gold in private, with the promise never to mention it to any one; but the Saint still refused the gifts. The King, being thus assured of the virtue of St. Francis, besought him to pray that God would deliver him from his serious illness and prolong his life. The Saint prayed; but afterwards returned to the King and told him that God had resolved to take him out of life. He advised him, therefore, to prepare for an humble and contrite confession and to leave nothing undone that might contribute towards obtaining for him the grace of a happy death. The King, who, previous to this, was terrified even at hearing any one speak of death, yielded very submissively to the decree of the King of Kings, after St. Francis had thus exhorted and encouraged him. He then requested the Saint to remain with him until his death and ordered the adjoining chamber to be prepared for his use. St. Francis every day spent several hours with the King, who, under his direction, made a sincere and contrite confession of all his sins, received the last sacraments, and at length expired in the arms of the Saint, after having for some time practised many virtues. The King’s successor, Charles VIII., entertained such a veneration and respect for the sanctity of the holy man, that he would scarcely ever undertake an affair of importance without first receiving the advice of the Saint on the subject. He requested the holy man to be godfather to the crown prince, and to give him his name, which was accordingly done.This King had three monasteries erected for the monks of St. Francis, and one of them was built behind the walls of the castle of Plessis. The Saint, on the other hand, by his prayers, obtained for the king two glorious victories over his enemies.
Many other things which the Saint did, both for the lowly and exalted, must be omitted here.We will only say, in general, that he received the most extraordinary graces and gifts from God, so that no Saint of his time performed as many astonishing miracles as St. Francis did.He delivered the possessed, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cured numberless sick persons, and even raised the dead to life. He announced the punishment of God to two Kings, if they would not amend their lives, and the event verified his prediction. To some persons he foretold a long life, to others the near approach of death. He also told some persons they would enter the religious state, while to many others he prophesied different future events. He could see the inmost recesses of the soul as in a mirror, and on one occasion, when a certain person took him to be a magician, he whispered in his ear: “I am no magician, but the servant of Jesus Christ.” On account of these and similar deeds, he was called the prophet and wonder worker of his time, and on account of his great sanctity, the holy man. A fiery ball was once seen to descend from heaven and rest upon his head; in its centre the word “Charitas,” charity, might be read. This was taken as a sign of the great love of God which inflamed his heart. All were astonished at the unchangeable uniformity of his conduct, for his manner of living was as poor,as humble and secluded at court as in his hermitage or at his monastery. After this holy servant of God, who was so lowly in his own eyes, but so exalted before God and the Christian world, had continued to spread his order throughout France, Spain and Germany, until his last year, God was pleased to call him from this world. On Palm Sunday, in the year 1507, he felt a slight indisposition, and on Holy Thursday, he asked to be led to the church, where he made his confession with a rope around his neck, and received the holy Eucharist with the greatest devotion. He was conducted back to his cell, where on the following day, about the same hour in which Christ expired on the Cross, he joyfully resigned his soul into the hands of his Saviour.Before his end, he exhorted and admonished his brethren to love God, live in fraternal unity and the strict observance of their rule. His last prayer was: “O sweetest, O most bountiful Jesus! Thou true Shepherd! preserve the just, convert the wicked and have mercy on all the faithful, the living as well as the dead. Be also merciful to me a poor sinner! His last words were: “Into thy hands O Lord! I commend my spirit.” His holy body remained incorrupt until the year 1562, when the Calvinists took it from the grave of the monastic church at Plessis, and, by means of a rope, dragged it to the parlor, where they threw it into the fire, together with a wooden crucifix, a deed at which even heathens and Turks cannot help being shocked. But God did not permit so valuable a treasure to be reduced entirely to ashes. Some zealous Catholics saved the greatest part of his bones from the flames, and these were afterwards distributed among the different churches, where they are preserved and honored with the greatest veneration.
I. St. Francis did not take the presents sent by the king but exhorted him to restore them to their lawful owners. There are persons, of whom I have elsewhere spoken, who, when they have gathered much wealth by means of usury, fraud and injustice, imagine it will suffice for them to give abundant alms to the poor, leave legacies for pious purposes, establish anniversary days and the like. A great delusion, a deceit of the devil! A bove all,that which has been unjustly obtained must be restored, before alms or anything similar is acceptable to God. If any one intends making a pious donation this must be done from his own wealth and not that of others. “The half of my goods I give to the poor,” said Zacheus. Of my goods, remember well. “He does not give from unjustly obtained wealth,” says St. Chrysostom, but from his own goods, that which was unjustly obtained he restored to the lawful owner. Such alms alone are pleasing to God and beneficial to men. “Such alms,” says St. Gregory, ” are pleasing in the eyes of our Saviour as are given from personal property which has been justly obtained, but not such as are given from ill-gotten goods.” Examine your conscience and see if you possess anything unjustly obtained; if so, restore it.
II. Have you read how St. Francis fasted in solitude for six years, and afterwards made a vow to observe as strict a fast throughout the year as the church proscribes for the Lenten season? What do you think and say concerning so long and strict a fast? Can you complain if I ask you to observe at least the fasts prescribed by the church ? Are you perhaps, afraid of injuring your health thereby or even of shortening your life? The devil causes you this fear because he is the sworn enemy to fasting. God assures you, of the contrary, as I have proved in the month of January. He says expressly that he prolongs the life of him who is temperate or mortified in eating and drinking. Experience proves this divine assertion; to be true. St. Francis by his fasting reached the advanced age of 91 years. Sts. Paul, Anthony and Theodosius, whose feasts were celebrated in January, reached a still greater age. I ask, did any one who failed to observe the law of fast and abstinence ever attain such an age, and, if so, what good did he derive from it? He will only have to suffer the more, because he has sinned more. Therefore listen to and follow the advice of St. Athanasius who says: “If any one tells you not to fast, lest you might thereby injure your health, do not believe him; nay do not even listen to him; for Satan has sent him to you.” Not fasting, but many other things both weaken the bodily strength and shorten life. Such, especially, are excess in eating and drinking, idleness, sleeping too long and, above all, the abominable vice of impurity. By such actions the body suffers much more than we can imagine; the health is injured and the life shortened. Of the former we have the testimony of Holy Writ, which says: “Be not greedy in any feasting and pour not out thyself upon any meat; for, in many meats there will be sickness, and greediness will turn to choler. By surfeiting many have perished; but he that is temperate, shall prolong life ” (Eccl. xxxvii. 34). These are the words of eternal truth. Will you sooner believe the father of lies than the God who is infallible?d him with great respect. Having reached his ninety-first year, he died at Tours, in the year of our Lord one thousand five hundred and seven. His body, which was left unburied for eleven days, so far from becoming corrupt, yielded a sweet fragrance. He was canonised by Pope Leo the Tenth.
Apostle of penance! thy life was always that of a Saint, and we are sinners: yet do we presume, during these days, to beg thy powerful intercession, in order to obtain of God, that this holy Season may not pass without having produced within us a true spirit of penance, which may give us a reasonable hope of receiving His pardon. We admire the wondrous works which filled thy life,–a life that resembled, in duration, that of the Patriarchs, and prolonged the privilege the world enjoyed of having such a Saint to teach and edify it. Now that thou art enjoying in heaven the fruits of thy labours on earth, think upon us, and hearken to the prayers addressed to thee by the Faithful. Get us the spirit of compunction, which will add earnestness to our works of penance. Bless and preserve the Order thou hast founded. Thy holy relics have been destroyed by the fury of heretics; avenge the injury thus offered to thy name, by praying for the conversion of heretics and sinners, and drawing down upon the world those heavenly graces, which will revive among us the fervour of the Ages of Faith. Amen.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place .1876.