"Induebar cilicio, humiliabam in ieiunio animam meam, et oratio mea ad sinum meum revertetur."
"I wore sackcloth, I afflicted myself with fasting. I prayed with head bowed on my bosom."--Ps 35:13.
No Christian life is without suffering, for Christ suffered. Even the most joyful Christian recognizes the necessity of suffering, whether voluntary or no. The Seraphic Father, St. Francis of Assisi, was no different in this regard. Yet so many portray him as solely a lover of God's creation (which he most assuredly was). How many know of his tears, his tears so plentiful that they ran furrows in his cheeks, that they took away his sight? Who knows of his public self-deprecation when he took a spoonful of meat broth while fasting? Who knows of his flight into a thorn bush to conquer the passions of the flesh?
St. Francis was not just a man of joy who loved God's creation, but he was a man who suffered for the Lord, who mortified himself for the Lord. "Each one has the [real] enemy in his own power; that is, the body through which he sins. Therefore blessed is that servant (Mt 24:46) who, having such an enemy in his power, will always hold him captive and wisely guard himself against him" (Admonitions X.2-3). His call to poverty, Lady Poverty whom he married, was joined with a call to mortify oneself. He calls blessed those who "hate their bodies with their vices and sins...and produce worthy fruits of penance" (The First Version of the Letter to the Faithful §§I.2, 4). "We must also fast and abstain from vices and sins (cf. Sir 3:32) and from any excess of food and drink, and be Catholics...We must also deny ourselves (cf. Mt 16:24) and place our bodies under the yoke" (The Second Version of the Letter to the Faithful §§32, 40).
He did not only speak in generalities even, but in specifics as well. He decreed much fasting for his brothers: from All Saints until Christmas, from Epiphany until Easter, and every Friday (cf. The Earlier Rule §§III.11-12; The Later Rule §§III.5-8). Though he later allowed them to not keep the post-Epiphany fast, asked that those who do keep it "be blessed by the Lord" (The Later Rule §III.6). It is easy to see how great a love for fasting and for penance and for bodily mortification St. Francis had, a love which he strove to pass on to his brothers.
May those who love our Father Francis not see merely his joy and his love of creation but his love of poverty, of fasting, of bodily mortification as well. Let us follow his example and not live only in joy, but also in penance. Let us strive, too, to live in penance as he recommended: let us live a life of fasting. Though it may be fatiguing, let us strive none the less: "For you will sell this fatigue at a very high price and each one [of you] will be crowned" (The Canticle of Exhortation to Saint Clare and Her Sisters §6).
San Francesco, prega per noi!
St. Francis, pray for us!
Nota Bene: All quotes come from the volume of the Writings of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi translated by Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., and Ignatius C. Brady, O.F.M., published as part of Paulist Press' Classics of Western Spirituality Series.