November 2009 - Vol. 34

Saint Francis Kissing a Leper, by Michael O'Brien

To Kiss a Leper
From the Legend of the Three Companions of St. Francis of Assisi
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. G.K. Chesterton wrote at the turn of the 20th century: "He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men." The following story of Francis is taken from the Legend of the Three Companions, Chapter IV, written in the second half of the 13th century by three companions of Francis: Brothers Leo, Angelus, and Rufinus.
Among the lepers Francis begins to conquer himself, and to find sweetness in what formerly had been distasteful to him.
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 contentment." 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. From that day onwards he mortified himself increasingly until, through Godís grace, he won a complete victory.
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 could neither touch or even look at lepers, but when he left them on that day, what had been so repugnant to him had really and truly been turned into something pleasant.

Indeed, his previous aversion to lepers had been so strong that, besides being incapable of looking at them, he would not even approach the places where they lived. And if by chance he happened to pass anywhere near their dwellings or to see one of the lepers, even though he was moved to give them an alms through some intermediate person, he would nevertheless turn his face away and hold his nose. But, strengthened by God's grace, he was enabled to obey the command and to love what he had hated and to abhor what he had hitherto wrongfully loved. In consequence of this he became such a friend to the lepers that, as he himself declared in his Testament, he lived with them and served them with loving eagerness.


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