"Mary's Little Portion"
St. Francis devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and of the Church, was deep. There is no doubt that this devotion was instilled in him by his parents as they were devout people. St. Francis childhood predated the popular devotion of the Rosary, but it is clear that he has written many prayers to Mary by his own hand.
A small dilapidated building down the hill from Assisi, owned by the Benedictines of Subiaco, later given to the Franciscans, is the "Portiuncula" (right) housed in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. (Left)
Francis rebuilt this little chapel personally, with the help of his first followers, in 1206, after his conversion.
As time went on and the friars began to multiply, the Poor Clares were established, and the Brothers and Sisters of Penance were added to Francis' followers, "Mary's Little Portion*" became known as the "Cradle of Franciscanism*".
As St. Francis was attending Holy Mass in this small chapel, he heard the reading from the Gospel of Matthew 10, "Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. As you enter a house, wish it peace." And Francis knew that is what he had to do. That was his objective in founding the Order of Friars Minor, to go speak to people in a town, any town, without income, without gold (riches), with the clothes on his back, just go!
The friars are still doing that. OK, they stay longer in a town than one or two days, but it can be expected that friars are reassigned every three years, and many do move on to other assignments. One friar told me that he never fully unpacked his moving boxes, knowing that when he finally got around to it, it was time to move again. That is the nature of mendicants, they do not take roots in a particular friary or monastery, but they go where they are needed.
Francis and his friars did not spend a lot of time in this little chapel. They came there to pray and hold their Chapters (community meetings, a Chapter of Election is held traditionally every three years); they did not sleep or eat in this little church. They were Umbrian beggars, going here and there as fancy dictated. sleeping in hay-lofts, in leper hospitals, or under the porch of some church (Sabbatier)
"Seeing that day by day the number of his followers was increasing, Francis wrote simply and in a few words a form of life and rule for himself and his brothers both present and to come. It mainly used the words of the gospel, for the perfection of which alone he yearned. Nevertheless, he did insert a few other things necessary for the pursuit of a holy life.
"He came to Rome with all his brothers, hoping that Pope Innocent III would confirm what he had written. At that time the venerable bishop of Assisi, Guido, who honoured Francis and the brothers and prized them with a special love, also happened to be in Rome. When he saw Francis and his brothers there and did not know the cause, he was very upset, since he feared they were planning to desert their native city, in which God was now doing great things through his servants. He was pleased to have such men in his diocese and relied greatly on their life and manners. Having heard the cause of their visit and understood their plan, he was relieved and promised to give them advice and aid." (Celano, 1st Life of St. F. Ch. 13) The pope orally approved the Rule Francis had written, in 1209.
"In November 1215, however, the Fathers of the Fourth Lateran Council published very precise rules regarding religious Orders. Canon 13 of the Council states that there were too many religious Orders, and the founding of new Order was henceforth forbidden. Whoever wanted to embrace religious life was obliged to enter into one of the already approved Orders of monks or canons regular. Francis himself could be the exception to this rule, for the simple reason that he invoked the oral approval of his Form of Life by Innocent III in 1209.
"In fact, this made it possible for the Friars Minor to continue developing their legislation in the aftermath of the Fourth Lateran Council, particularly during the celebration of the Pentecost Chapter, at least from 1217 onwards, and to produce a more articulated Form of Life in the Earlier Rule of 1221, and eventually in the definitive Regula Bullata or Later Rule, confirmed by Pope Honorius III on November 29, 1223." (Muscat)
Now, let us ponder how long it would take for St. Francis and his friars to walk to Rome. To drive the distance from Assisi to the Eternal City takes 115 miles by modern road, but the friars weren't driving. They walked. It probably took them 4-5 days, if they stopped and met people from place to place.
On Palm Sunday, in the year 1212, St. Francis received Clare. He gave her a religious habit, and cut her hair, as is still customary today in certain strict orders when someone joins. Today we have the Order of St. Clare, also known as the Poor Clares, because as with the friars, they too make a Vow of Poverty, as well as Obedience and Chastity.
"Luchesio Modestini (born ca. 1180) was a merchant in the little town of Poggibonzi in Tuscany. More than most merchants, he was so entirely and solely concerned with material success that he was generally reputed to be an avaricious man. His wife, Buonadonna, was of a similar disposition. Then the grace of God touched the husband. He realized how foolish it is to strive only for worldly goods, of which he could take nothing with him to eternity, meanwhile forgetting about his soul's salvation, as he had, unfortunately, been doing until then. He began to practice works of mercy and to perform his religious obligations with fidelity; he succeeded in winning his wife over to a similar outlook on life.
"Since they had no one to care for but themselves, and Luchesio feared that in conducting his business he might relapse into covetousness, he gave up his business entirely. He and his good wife divided everything among the poor and retained for themselves only so much acreage as would suffice for their support. Luchesio tilled this with his own hands.
"About this time St. Francis came to Tuscany. After his sermon on penance, hosts of people desired to leave all and enter the convent. But the saint admonished them calmly to persevere in their vocation, for he had in mind soon to give them a special rule according to which they could serve God perfectly even in the world.
"At Poggibonzi Francis visited Luchesio, with whom he had become acquainted through former business transactions. Francis greatly rejoiced to find this avaricious man so altered, and Luchesio, who had already heard about the blessed activities of Francis, asked for special instructions for himself and his wife, so that they might lead a life in the world that would be pleasing to God.
"Francis then explained to them his plans for the establishment of an order for lay people; and Luchesio and Buonadonna asked to be received into it at once. This, according to tradition, they became the first members of the Order of Penance, which later came to be called the Third Order, (and then Secular Franciscan Order).
"If Luchesio and Buonadonna were really the first Tertiaries, they must have become such not long after St. Francis founded his First Order in 1209. The first simple rule of life, which St. Francis gave to the first Tertiaries at that time, was supplanted in 1221 by one which Cardinal Ugolino prepared in legal wording. And in the same year Pope Honorius III approved this rule verbally. For this reason the year 1221 is often given as the date of the founding of the Third Order of St. Francis.
"After Luchesio had put on the gray garment of a Tertiary, he rapidly advanced toward perfect holiness. He practiced penitential austerities, often fated on bread and water, slept on the hard floor, and at his work bore God constantly in his heart. His generosity to the poor knew no bounds, so that one day there was not even a loaf of bread for his own household. When still another poor man came, he asked his wife to look whether there was not something they could find for him. That vexed her and she scolded him severely; his mortifications, she said, had well nigh crazed him, he would keep giving so long that they themselves would have to suffer hunger. Luchesio asked her gently to please look in the pantry, for he trusted in Him who had multiplied a few loaves for the benefit of thousands. She did so, and the marvel of it! The whole pantry was filled with the best kind of bread. From that time on Buonadonna vied with her husband in doing good.
"When a plague raged in Poggibonzi and the surrounding places, Luchesio went out with his laden donkey, to bring the necessaries to the sick. When he did not have enough to supply all, he begged for more from others in behalf of the distressed.
"Once he carried a sick cripple, whom he had found on the way, to his home on his shoulders. A frivolous young man met him, and asked him mockingly, "what poor devil is that you are carrying there on your back?" Luchesio replied calmly. "I am carrying my Lord Jesus Christ." At once the young man's face became distorted, he cried out fearfully, and was dumb. Contritely he cast himself on his knees before Luchesio, who restored his speech to him by means of the Sign of the Cross.
"The time had come when the faithful servant of God was to receive the reward for his good works. When he lay very ill, and there was no hope for his recovery, his wife said to him, "Implore God, who gave us to each other as companions in life, to permit us also to die together." Luchesio prayed as requested. and Buonadonna fell ill with a fever, from which she died even before her husband, after devoutly receiving the holy sacraments. Luchesio passed away with holy longing for God on April 28, 1260. At his grave in the Franciscan church at Poggibonzi many miracles have occurred. His continuous veneration as Blessed was approved by Pope Pius VI."
All Franciscans, friars, poor clares, and secular franciscans are under the protection of Mary, the Mother of God, and that is what St. Francis desired us to be.
(*) titles used in "Day by Day, with the followers of Francis & Clare" by Fr. Pat McCloskey, OFM. 1999. St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, OH. (page 88)
(Sabbatier) Life of St. Francis by Paul Sabbatier, on this website
(Muscat) HISTORY OF THE FRANCISCAN MOVEMENT Volume 1,
FROM THE BEGINNINGS OF THE ORDER TO THE YEAR 1517. Noel Muscat OFM, on this website
Blessed Luchesio Modestini story text is in the public domain.
All images used here in the public domain unless otherwise noted.
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