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October 4 Saints of the Day – Paul the Simple and Francis of Assisi

On this day in 1957, Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, was launched, beaming panic into the homes of Americans nationwide.

Paul the SimplePaul the Simple of Egypt (d. ca. 339) was a sixty-year-old Egyptian farmer when he caught his beautiful wife in the hayloft with another man (they were not baling hay) (unless that’s what the kids are calling it these days). I’m sure you’ll agree that this the sort of thing that can ruin your entire afternoon. Subsequently, Paul decided to become a hermit, and headed straight to the desert abode of St. Anthony and asked to be monkified. Anthony said, “At your age? It’d kill you. Go to a regular monastery.” Then he locked himself in his cell for five days to fast. When he came back out, Paul was still there. “Oh all right,” said Anthony.

That night at dinner, supper, tea, Abendessen, or whatever it is in your idiolect, Anthony ate a crust of bread, but gave Paul three. Paul cautiously ate one. “Go ahead, have another,” Anthony said. “I will if you will,” said Paul. “One is enough for a monk,” said Anthony. “Then one is enough for me, for I wish to become a monk.” Thus did Paul pass the first test. Anthony set him many more ascetic labors — fasting, vigils, singing Psalms, doing hard work, listening to Nickelback. Paul passed them all, so Anthony gave him his own cell.

In time Paul became known as a boffo (to use the ecclesiastical term) exorcist. Once when Anthony met a demon-possessed boy, he said, “I do not have the power to cast this one out. Go find Paul the Simple.” The lad’s parents did, and Paul was able to cast it out. His name became a byword (obviously) for simplicity of heart among the monks of the desert, and indeed unto this very day.

Francis of AssisiFrancis of Assisi (ca. 1181 – 1226) is one of those hyperfamous, hyperpopular saints that make amateur hagiographers tremble. Get one little detail wrong and poof! there goes your movie deal. But I am nothing if not intrepid.

Giovanni’s mother was French, so his Italian dad called him “Francis,” which means (roughly) “French guy.” He misspent his youth with rich-kid friends, but he also had a heart for the poor. Once when marketplacing his father’s cloth (he was a dyer), Frank was approached by a beggar, to whom he gave everything he had in his pockets (except the lint). His friends teased and his dad was displeased. Later he became a soldier, got nabbed by the enemy, and spent a year in captivity. Between this and a near-fatal illness, he had a conversion experience that put him on his famous road of poverty, humility, sanctity, and funny haircuts. His friends mocked him and his father clocked him, then disowned him. He forsook his father and his fancy clothes in a public ceremony admirably recorded by Zeffirelli.

Embracing a life of poverty, he preached salvation to the poor, collecting thereby a band of followers. He gave them a simple rule (“Follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and walk in his footsteps”), and they all went to Rome to be made an order. The pope gave them an informal blessing, and told them to come back when their numbers got bigger. They did and they did. Francis also founded the Poor Clares, centered around his dear friend Claire of Assisi, as well as the “Third Order,” a group of lay brothers.

Francis was also a great lover of animals. In one story, a wolf had been attacking humans and sheep and so on. Francis called it, it laid down at his feet, and he told it that it although had been wicked, he would like to make peace. So the wolf followed him into town, and he brokered a deal in which the wolf would no longer attack, and the townspeople would feed it. He also preached to the birds, and is often depicted with one in his hand or on his shoulder. He is the patron saint of environmentalists, animal welfare societies, and, of course, birds.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

October 4 (Wikipedia)
Venerable Paul the Simple of Egypt (OCA) – Main source
Paul the Simple (Wikipedia)
Icon of Paul from OCA (copyright unknown)
Francis of Assisi (Wikipedia) – Main source
Saint Francis of Assisi (SQPN)
Woodcut of Francis by Georg Schrimpf (1918) from Wikimedia (public domain).


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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