An armor-clad knight with a lance, oil-tempered sword and plumed helmet rode his war charger out of Assisi to battle against his neighboring Italian town of Perugia. When this brave youth, Francesco Bernardone, saw the wretched specter of a leper in the road, he spurred his horse to flee. But as he galloped by, Francis thought he recognized Christ in the contorted face of the outcast. Abruptly he stopped, dismounted, kissed the leper, gave alms, seated the man on the charger and led the way to the leper’s destination.

Before this experience, Francis so loathed the sight of lepers that he would look at their houses only from a distance of two miles while holding his nose. But Francis later said of this experience, “…What had previously nauseated me became a source of spiritual and physical consolation…. After that I did not wait long before leaving the world.”

For Francis, leaving the world meant caring for lepers and praying in deserted chapels. Pietro Bernardone, the wealthy father of Francis, was exasperated by this religious fanaticism and eventually disowned his son. In turn, Francis renounced all right to his inheritance.

Upon abandoning his own wealth, Francis determined that there must be no man anywhere poorer than he. No matter what rags Francis might be wearing, should he meet upon a beggar dressed even worse, Francis would immediately remove his own clothing and give it to the beggar. “I think the great Almsgiver would account it a theft in me,” he said, “did I not give that I wear unto one needing it more.”

Alms for the Poor

One day, contrary to his custom, Francis severely rebuked a poor man who had asked for alms. Immediately sorry, he began to upbraid himself that it was a shame to hold back from one in great need. ...

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