Francis Searches For His Role in Life: Give His Mantle to Poor Man
Saint Francis of Assisi was born in 1182, the only son of Pietro Bernardone, a wealthy cloth merchant of central Italy. Pietro gave his son the name of Giovanni at baptism, though he afterwards altered his son’s name to Francesco, perhaps in honor of his trading in France. Pietro’s worldly success had secured for the young Francis a care-free life of material comfort. Francis was a popular youth, often the center of attention, who could be found engaged in sport, frequenting the piazze of the city, or confidently serenading the young women of Assisi.
Francis eagerly sought the glory and honor of battle and in 1201, at the age of 19, outfitted himself as a knight in order to join the war with Assisi’s rival, Perugia. After an abrupt defeat, however, Francis spent nearly a year as a prisoner of the neighboring city-state while his father raised the money in 1203 to pay his ransom.
Though he turned frequently to the Sacred Scriptures for comfort, imprisonment and illness had shattered his self-assurance. Moreover, instead of reassuring him, the Gospel challenged Francis with the still unfamiliar values of Christian discipleship. In 1205 he again tried to outfit himself as a knight, but returned after suffering another illnessn. He was 23 years old. Uncertain and pensive, he returned to Assisi where his initial depression soon became an emotional crisis. His old way of life and his old friends left him feeling disillusioned and empty.
His evident dissatisfaction with the material comforts of his life frustrated his father, particularly as Francis spontaneously began to share his family’s wealth with the poor. One day Francis met a noble knight who had fallen on hard times. Feeling pity at the man's poverty, he took off his own cloak and gave it to him. Born of a crisis of human understanding, his search for inner peace and new direction put Francis on the road to conversion.
St. Maximilian Kolbe
Maximilian was born in 1894 in Poland and became a Franciscan. He contracted tuberculosis and, though he recovered, he remained frail all his life. Before his ordination as a priest, Maximilian founded the Immaculata Movement devoted to Our Lady. After receiving a doctorate in theology, he spread the Movement through a magazine entitled "The Knight of the Immaculata" and helped form a community of 800 men, the largest in the world.
Maximilian went to Japan where he built a comparable monastery and then on to India where he furthered the Movement. In 1936 he returned home because of ill health. After the Nazi invasion in 1939, he was imprisoned and released for a time. But in 1941 he was arrested again and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
On July 31, 1941, in reprisal for one prisoner's escape, ten men were chosen to die. Father Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father. And he was the last to die, enduring two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982. His feast day is August 14th.