Mirabai Starr is a friend, fellow New Mexican, and a respected author known for her work translating many mystics. Her words provide insight into a pivotal experience of St. Francis’ life.
After Christ spoke to Francis from the [crucifix in the] ruins of San Damiano, directing him to rebuild his church, Francis reached for the most immediate source of funds available: his father’s fabrics. Francis entered Pietro Bernardone’s warehouse when his father was away on business and helped himself to two bolts of expensive cloth.
Francis rode to a nearby village, where he sold both the fabric and his horse. Pocketing his purse of gold, he set off on foot for the crumbled church of San Damiano, where he offered the money to the priest. . . .
But Bernardone’s wrath was infamous, and the priest had no interest in incurring it. He refused the money.
When Francis’s father returned to Assisi and discovered what his errant son had done now, he predictably exploded. He had endured Francis’s outrageous disregard for his hard-earned wealth long enough.
In Francis’s youth, the boy had squandered entire fortunes on entertaining himself and his friends. His father had spent a huge sum to bail him out when Francis was captured as a prisoner of war. He had allowed Francis to do nothing for two years as he recovered from an illness contracted during his incarceration. And now this: stealing from his own father to pursue some crazy new whim.
Bernardone found his estranged son . . . begging in the streets of Assisi for stones to rebuild the church of San Damiano. . . .
When he was summoned before Bishop Guido, Francis went willingly, considering the bishop to be a representative of God. Guido, known for his violent temper, was surprisingly tender with [Francis]. . . . He tried to reason with him, explaining that he had “scandalized” his father and that God wouldn’t want him to use ill-gotten gains to do his work.
“My son,” said the bishop, “have confidence in the Lord and act courageously. . . . [God] will be your help and will abundantly provide you with whatever is necessary.”
These words penetrated Francis’s heart. Moved by a surge of faith, Francis stripped off his clothes in front of the entire assembly and handed them to his father, along with the purse of gold the priest at San Damiano had refused.
“Listen, everyone,” Francis called out to the crowd that had gathered to observe the trial. “From now on, I can say with complete freedom, ‘Our Father who art in Heaven.’ Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father.”
Stunned, the bishop wrapped his own cloak around Francis’s naked shoulders. His father left the cathedral defeated. This is not the way Bernardone hoped things would work out. What he really wanted was to have his son back. But Francis, released into the service of humanity, was lost to him forever.
Refection question: How will I today, help St. Francis and the Lord in rebuilding the Church that has fallen into ruin?