Today is the Feast of Saint Francis. There is so much to say about him that I was wondering what to write about him. I guess one reason I have loved him so much is that he is so different from the "popular" view that people have of him. I find so many people think he was just a harmless little hippie saint who skipped through the fields, loved nature, brought about peace through compromise, hugged trees and bunnies, and preached to birds. Another view more popular among the heterodox is that he was some sort of radical who went against institutions (especially that of the Church) and called for liberal changes in society and the Church. Anyway, if you think that Saint Francis was what was portrayed by Franco Zeffirelli in Brother Sun Sister Moon, you really need to look at Saint Francis' life and especially read his writings.
(My favorite statue of Saint Francis by Dupree, which is in the Cathedral of San Rufino in Assisi)
Saint Francis was very obedient. He would not continue his order until he had gotten permission from the Pope himself. He was obedient to his bishop as well. He had a great respect for the Real Presence, so much so that he would prostrate himself on the ground upon entering a church. He had great respect for priests. He had a great respect just for the physical building of a church.
He even set out for Egypt during the Crusades with the express purpose of converting the Sultan or to die as a martyr trying (how many bishops today would condemn this act?).
Saint Francis did make it to the Sultan. Although he did not convert him, he did impress the Sultan so much, that the Sultan gave him permission to go to the Holy Land and even went so far as to give him a ceremonial horn that allowed Saint Francis and his brethren to go there under the protection of the Sultan himself.
This horn is now in the reliquary in the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi.
I would say that everyone should read Saint Francis' "Letter to All the Faithful" (the "later" one addressed to all the faithful)
I would also highly recommend the Two Volume "Saint Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies." This is a great source not only of all of Saint Francis' writings, but also of the official biographies written by Thomas of Celano and Saint Bonaventure, as well as other writings about Saint Francis. It's also very affordable.
(This was formerly known as "the Omnibus of Sources." There is now a new "omnibus" but I have met one of the editors of it who told me that the new translations were done with inclusive language, so I would not recommend the current one at all. Stick to the one from Franciscan Press at Quincy University.)
Sancte Francisce, ora pro nobis.