Toward the Mother of Jesus he [St. Francis] was filled with an inexpressible love, because it was she who made the Lord of majesty our brother. He sang special Praises to her, poured out prayers to her, offered her his affections, so many and so great that the tongue of man cannot recount them. But what delights us most, he made her the advocate of the order and placed under her wings the sons he was about to leave that she might cherish them and protect them to the end. Hail, advocate of the poor! Fulfill toward us your office of protectress until the time set by the Father.
ln a popular expression of the times, he (St. Francis) taught them ‘by word and example’ (verbo et exemplo). And, by their own testimony, he was for them a living example of what he taught: He edified his listeners by his example as well as his words; ‘he made his whole body a tongue’; ‘more than someone who prayed, he had become prayer’: these are some of the descriptions of Francis recalled by Thomas of Celano. That is, his whole person had become the message he was trying to communicate.
Francis’ highest intention, his chief desire, his uppermost purpose was to observe the holy Gospel in all things and through all things and, with perfect vigilance, with all zeal, with all the longing of his mind and all the fervor of his heart, “to follow the teaching and the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He would recall Christ’s words through persistent meditation and bring to mind His deeds through the most penetrating consideration. The humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion occupied his memory particularly, to the extent that he wanted to think of hardly anything else.
When the nuns at St. Damian’s had come together to hear the word of God, though no less also to see their father St. Francis, he raised his eyes to heaven, where his heart always was, and began to pray to Christ. He then commanded ashes to …be brought to him and he made a circle with them around himself on the pavement and sprinkled the rest of them on his head. He remained in the circle in silence. The saint suddenly rose and to the amazement of the nuns recited the Miserere mei Deus in place of a sermon. When he had finished he quickly left. By his actions he taught them that they should regard themselves as ashes…
~ Thomas of Celano, The Second Life of St. Francis of Assisi, Chapter CLVII, via Portiuncula: the Little Portion
For he was not a dull listener of the Gospels, but commending all things he had heard to his compendious memory, he diligently strove to implement them to the letter.
~ Thomas of Celano, First Life of St. Francis
Swift to forgive, slow to grow angry, free in nature, remarkable in memory, subtle in discussing, careful in choices, he (Francis) was simple in everything! Strict with himself, kind with others, he was discerning in everything! … Because he was very humble, he showed meekness to all people, and duly adapted himself to the behavior of all. Holy among the holy, among sinners he was like one of them.
~ Thomas of Celano, The Life of St. Francis
He would tell his sons that she was the way of perfection, the pledge and earnest of eternal riches. No one was so greedy of gold as he of poverty; no one more careful in guarding a treasure than he in guarding this pearl of the Gospel.
~Thomas of Celano, The Second Life of St. Francis of Assisi
While he was in this affected state, something absolutely unheard-of occurred. The crucifix moved its lips and began to speak. “Francis,” it said, calling him by name, “go and repair my house, which, as you see, is completely destroyed.” Francis was stupefied and nearly deranged by this speech. He prepared to obey, surrendering himself completely to the project. But since he considered the change in him to be beyond description, it is best for us to be silent about what he himself could not describe. From then on compassion for the crucified one was imprinted in his holy soul and, one may devoutly suspect, the stigmata of the holy passion were deeply imprinted in his heart, though not yet in his flesh.
~Thomas of Celano, First and Second Lives of Saint Francis