Today is the feast day of Saint Francis of Paula. Ora pro nobis.
by Fr. Xavier Weninger, 1877
Paola, a small town in Calabria, a province of Naples, was the favored place where St. Francis, who is so celebrated on account if his miracles and virtues, was born. Hence, he is called St. Francis of Paola, to distinguish him from other saints who bear the name of Francis. His parents were not wealthy, but they were very pious. They had been married 16 years, and had no heir, when they made a vow, that if God would give them a son, they would devote him to the service of Religion in the order of St. Francis of Assisi. God heard their prayer, and they, therefore, gave the child the name of Francis. A bright flame was visible over the house of his virtuous parents at the time of the birth of this child of grace, and was considered a sign of his future sanctity.When Francis had reached his 13th year, his parents took him to the monastery in the city of St. Mark that he might in accordance with their vow serve the Franciscan priests living there. From this time, he accustomed himself to a very strict mode of living, which he ever afterwards observed. After a year, he went to a wilderness where he spent six entire years in continued prayer, great austerity and contemplation.He not only abstained from meat, but also from every other food which is pleasing to the taste. Hard bread or a few wild roots were his only food, water his only drink, and he usually partook of his scant repast only in the evening. His bed was a hard stone or the bare ground; he always went barefoot, and daily scourged himself most cruelly.
Several young men and a learned priest, having heard of the pious life led by St. Francis, came to him and requested to live under his spiritual guidance.He consulted God in the matter,and, being assured of the Divine will, he built a church and monastery, with the consent of the Bishop of Cosenza. He thus laid the foundation of a new and very strict order, whose members he desired to be called Minims or Lesser Friars. To the three usual vows he added another, which bound his religious to observe as strict a fast every day as the Church prescribes for Lent. Many miracles occurred while the church and monastery were being built. Once the workmen complained of having no water to quench their thirst; the Saint struck a rock which was near by with his cane and immediately the purest water came forth. On another occasion, the workmen informed him that the lime-kiln was in danger of bursting; the Saint made the sign of the cross,, went into the kiln, removed the danger and came forth uninjured. An immense mass of rock, having become detached from a neighboring mountain, threatened to rolldown upon the convent with great force and destroy it. The Saint in a loud voice commanded it to remain at rest and roll no farther; and it obeyed! He performed many similar miracles while building other monasteries. When he was called to Sicily to build a convent there, the seamen refused to take him on board their vessels unless he paid his fare. After having said a short prayer, the Saint spread his mantle upon the water and sat upon it with his companions and happily reached Sicily from Calabria.These things occurred in the presence of so many, that there could be no doubt of the miraculous power which Francis had received from God.
Having returned to his first monastery, he received orders from the Pope to go to Louis XL, King of France, who was very ill. Before fulfilling this command, he was obliged to visit the King of Naples, whose subjects were groaning under the weight of heavy taxes. The King offered him a dish full of gold pieces, telling him to employ them for the purpose of building new monasteries; but the Saint refused, saying he did not desire the sweat and blood of the subjects. Hereupon, he broke a piece of the money, and behold blood flowed from it. The King and his courtiers could not regard the spectacle without great horror. At Rome, St. Francis was received by the cardinals and even by the Pope himself with great marks of honor; but, as the latter refused to give his approbation to the above mentioned fourth vow, Francis took by the hand of a cardinal standing next to him and said: “If your Holiness will not do so, this person will.” This prophecy was actually fulfilled, as the same cardinal afterwards became Pope, and gave his sanction to the vow, and to all the regulations of the order.
After many similar wonderful events, he at length reached the Kingdom of France. Previous to seeing St. Francis, the King sent him many vessels of gold and silver to be employed in building new convents. But the Saint would not accept one of them, but replied: “The King would do better to restore his ill-gotten goods to their lawful owners.” He repeated these words also in the presence of the King, who offered St. Francis much gold in private, with the promise never to mention it to any one; but the Saint still refused the gifts. The King, being thus assured of the virtue of St. Francis, besought him to pray that God would deliver him from his serious illness and prolong his life. The Saint prayed; but afterwards returned to the King and told him that God had resolved to take him out of life. He advised him, therefore, to prepare for an humble and contrite confession and to leave nothing undone that might contribute towards obtaining for him the grace of a happy death. The King, who, previous to this, was terrified even at hearing any one speak of death, yielded very submissively to the decree of the King of Kings, after St. Francis had thus exhorted and encouraged him. He then requested the Saint to remain with him until his death and ordered the adjoining chamber to be prepared for his use. St. Francis every day spent several hours with the King, who, under his direction, made a sincere and contrite confession of all his sins, received the last sacraments, and at length expired in the arms of the Saint, after having for some time practised many virtues. The King’s successor, Charles VIII., entertained such a veneration and respect for the sanctity of the holy man, that he would scarcely ever undertake an affair of importance without first receiving the advice of the Saint on the subject. He requested the holy man to be godfather to the crown prince, and to give him his name, which was accordingly done.This King had three monasteries erected for the monks of St. Francis, and one of them was built behind the walls of the castle of Plessis. The Saint, on the other hand, by his prayers, obtained for the king two glorious victories over his enemies.
Many other things which the Saint did, both for the lowly and exalted, must be omitted here.We will only say, in general, that he received the most extraordinary graces and gifts from God, so that no Saint of his time performed as many astonishing miracles as St. Francis did.He delivered the possessed, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cured numberless sick persons, and even raised the dead to life. He announced the punishment of God to two Kings, if they would not amend their lives, and the event verified his prediction. To some persons he foretold a long life, to others the near approach of death. He also told some persons they would enter the religious state, while to many others he prophesied different future events. He could see the inmost recesses of the soul as in a mirror, and on one occasion, when a certain person took him to be a magician, he whispered in his ear: “I am no magician, but the servant of Jesus Christ.” On account of these and similar deeds, he was called the prophet and wonder worker of his time, and on account of his great sanctity, the holy man. A fiery ball was once seen to descend from heaven and rest upon his head; in its centre the word “Charitas,” charity, might be read. This was taken as a sign of the great love of God which inflamed his heart. All were astonished at the unchangeable uniformity of his conduct, for his manner of living was as poor,as humble and secluded at court as in his hermitage or at his monastery. After this holy servant of God, who was so lowly in his own eyes, but so exalted before God and the Christian world, had continued to spread his order throughout France, Spain and Germany, until his last year, God was pleased to call him from this world. On Palm Sunday, in the year 1507, he felt a slight indisposition, and on Holy Thursday, he asked to be led to the church, where he made his confession with a rope around his neck, and received the holy Eucharist with the greatest devotion. He was conducted back to his cell, where on the following day, about the same hour in which Christ expired on the Cross, he joyfully resigned his soul into the hands of his Saviour.Before his end, he exhorted and admonished his brethren to love God, live in fraternal unity and the strict observance of their rule. His last prayer was: “O sweetest, O most bountiful Jesus! Thou true Shepherd! preserve the just, convert the wicked and have mercy on all the faithful, the living as well as the dead. Be also merciful to me a poor sinner! His last words were: “Into thy hands O Lord! I commend my spirit.” His holy body remained incorrupt until the year 1562, when the Calvinists took it from the grave of the monastic church at Plessis, and, by means of a rope, dragged it to the parlor, where they threw it into the fire, together with a wooden crucifix, a deed at which even heathens and Turks cannot help being shocked. But God did not permit so valuable a treasure to be reduced entirely to ashes. Some zealous Catholics saved the greatest part of his bones from the flames, and these were afterwards distributed among the different churches, where they are preserved and honored with the greatest veneration. (2)
Saint Francis of Paula
Leo X canonized him in 1019. In 1562 the Huguenots broke open his tomb and found his body incorrupt. They dragged it forth and burnt it, but some of the bones were preserved by the Catholics and enshrined in various churches of his order. The Order of Minims does not seem at any time to have been very extensive, but they had houses in many countries. The definitive rule was approved in 1506 by Julius II, who also approved a rule for the nuns of the order. The feast of St. Francis of Paula is kept by the universal Church on 2 April, the day on which he died. (4)
Image: Saint Francis of Paola (8)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff