"He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men," wrote 20th-century writer G. K. Chesterton about the wandering medieval preacher who founded the Franciscan Order and addressed paupers, popes, and sultans. Francis of Assisi sought to live out Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in radically concrete ways, and in doing so he helped spark a religious revival that left an indelible mark on 13th-century Europe. Eight hundred years after his death, Francis's concern for the poor, his love for God's creation, and his message of simplicity and repentance still inspire Christians around the world.

The following short stories from early biographies and one of Francis's most celebrated poems give a glimpse into his character.

To Kiss a Leper

One day while Francis was praying fervently to God, he received an answer: "O Francis, if you want to know my will, you must hate and despise all that which hitherto your body has loved and desired to possess. Once you begin to do this, all that formerly seemed sweet and pleasant to you will become bitter and unbearable, and instead, the things that formerly made you shudder will bring you great sweetness and content." Francis was divinely comforted and greatly encouraged by these words.

Then one day, as he was riding near Assisi, he met a leper. He had always felt an overpowering horror of these sufferers, but making a great effort, he conquered his aversion, dismounted, and, in giving the leper a coin, kissed his hand. The leper then gave him the kiss of peace, after which Francis remounted his horse and rode on his way.

Some days later he took a large sum of money to the leper hospital, and gathering all the inmates together, he gave them alms, kissing each of their hands. Formerly he ...

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