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How St. Francis Understood What Charism God was Calling Him to Live

From the Franciscan sources: “The truth of Francis’ teaching was brought home to people by the simplicity of his way of life, and two years after his own conversion several men were drawn to follow his example of penitence, and they left everything in order to join him. The first of these was Brother Bernard of holy memory. He well knew how luxuriously Francis had lived in the world; therefore, when he saw how he labored to restore ruined churches and what a harsh life he led, Bernard too resolved to sell his possessions and give all to the poor. It seemed to him the will of God that he should follow Francis in clothing and his whole manner of life. With this in mind he went one day secretly to see God’s servant and opened his heart to him, also inviting him to come that evening and lodge in his house. Francis joyfully gave thanks to God, because so far he had had no companions and Master Bernard was a virtuous and godly man. Therefore, as arranged, he went to Bernard’s house and remained there all night in great joy of heart. Bernard put a question to him: ‘If a man receives from God few or many possessions and, having enjoyed them for a number of years, now no longer wishes to retain them, what would be the best thing for him to do?’ Blessed Francis answered that in that case it would be better for the man to give back to God what he had received; to which Master Bernard rejoined: ‘Then, Brother, I will give all my worldly goods to the poor for the love of God who gave them to me, according as you may think best.’ And Blessed Francis said to him: ‘Tomorrow early we will go to the church; and as the Lord taught his disciples, we will learn from the book of the Gospel what to do.’ Therefore, they rose early; and with another man named Peter, who also wished to join them, they went to the church of Saint Nicholas near the chief square of the city. They went in to pray, but, being simple men, they did not know how to find the passage in the Gospel telling of the renunciation of the world. Therefore, they besought God that he would show them his will the first time he opened the book. When their prayer was ended, blessed Francis, kneeling before the altar, took the closed book, opened it and saw written: ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven” (Matt 19:21). At this blessed Francis gave thanks to God with great joy; but because of his devotion to the blessed Trinity, he desired a threefold confirmation of the words and opened the book of the Gospel a second and third time. At the second time he read: ‘Take nothing for your journey (Luke 9:3), and at the third: ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself’ (Matt 16:24). Each time he opened the book, blessed Francis gave thanks to God for his threefold confirmation of the resolution and desire which he had long held in his heart; and he said to the aforementioned Bernard and Peter: ‘O Brothers, this is our life and rule and the life and rule of all those who may wish to join us. Go, therefore, and act on what you have heard.’ So Master Bernard, who was very rich, sold all his possessions, and distributed a great deal of money to the poor of the city. Peter too, according to his means, followed our Lord’s counsel. Having sold everything, these two both took the habit of poverty which blessed Francis had already adopted when he abandoned the life of a hermit; and from then on, he and they lived according to the precept of the holy Gospel as the Lord had shown them. Because of this blessed Francis said in his Testament: ‘The Lord himself showed me that I should live according to the holy Gospel.’”

(Legend of the Three Companions, chap. VIII, 27-29)

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