Saint Francis of Paula
At the age of fifteen, Saint Francis left his poor home at Paula in Calabria, Italy, to live as a hermit in a cave on the seacoast. In time disciples gathered around him, and with them, in 1436, he founded the Order of the Minims. He chose this name that they might always consider themselves the least of monastic Orders. They observed a perpetual Lent, never touching meat, fish, eggs, or milk. Francis himself made the rock his bed; his best garment was a hair shirt, and boiled herbs were his only fare. His first consideration in all things was Caritas, charity.
Saint Francis was a thaumaturge, which denomination indicates a miracle-worker known for his virtually unceasing wonders. The Church recognizes that God, as a rule, does not raise up more than one every century. He cured the sick, raised the dead, averted plagues, expelled evil spirits, and brought sinners to penance. But opposition arose; a famous preacher, misled by a few misguided monks, set to work to preach against Saint Francis and his miracles. The Saint took no notice of it, and the preacher, finding that he made no way with his hearers, determined to go to see this poor hermit whom he did not know, and confound him in person. The Saint received him kindly, gave him a seat by the fire, and listened to a long exposition of his own frauds. He then quietly took some glowing embers from the fire, and closing his hands upon them unhurt, said, Come, Father Anthony, warm yourself, for you are shivering for want of a little charity. Father Anthony, falling at the Saint’s feet, asked for pardon, and then, having received his embrace, left him, to become his panegyrist and himself attain great perfection.
When the avaricious King Ferdinand of Naples offered him a gift of money for his convent, Francis told him to give it back to his oppressed subjects, and softened his heart by causing blood to flow from the ill-gotten coin.
King Louis XI of France, trembling at the approach of death, sent for the poor hermit to come and ward off the foe whose advance neither his fortresses nor his guards could check. Francis went at the Pope’s command, leaving his country and his foundations there, which he foretold he would not see again; and he prepared the king for a pious death. He set the court to marveling when a delicately seasoned fish, which the king had ordered prepared for his guest’s dinner, swam away after Saint Francis cast it into the pool from which it had been taken. And the successors of King Louis showered favors on their remarkable guest, desiring him to remain in France. It was God’s will that retained him there.
His Rule for the Order of Minims was adopted also by women religious, and spread throughout Europe; a less rigorous Rule was adapted for the Third Order Secular for those who desired a life of penance in their state. His name was reverenced everywhere in the Christian world; his prophecies were, during his lifetime, and are still today, held in great veneration. He died at the age of ninety-one, on Good Friday, 1507, with the crucifix in his hand and the last words of Jesus on his lips: Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Reflection. Rely in all difficulties upon God. The faith and love which enabled Saint Francis to work miracles will do wonders for yourself, by giving you strength and consolation in proportion to your confidence and your efforts.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).