The first follower of St. Francis of Assisi was Bernard of Quintavalle. Bernard admired Francis and felt a deep desire to follow him. But before taking his first step to become a committed follower, Bernard wanted to make sure that Francis was truly a holy and pious man.
So Bernard came up with a plan. He asked Francis if he would accept an invitation to spend the night at his home. Francis readily accepted Bernard’s invitation because he had no fixed place to live. One evening, Bernard invited Francis into his own sleeping chamber where a small light was kept burning all night.
Then Francis, to conceal his own holiness, went to bed as soon as he came into the room. He then acted as if he was asleep. After a while, Bernard did the same in his own bed. Bernard, cleverly acting as if he were sound asleep, began to snore.
Francis, who believed that Bernard was fast asleep, arose from his bed and began to pray with his eyes and arms raised toward heaven. Then, with great devotion, Francis began to pray aloud, “My God and my all!” And thus, with Bernard watching, Francis remained praying and weeping with great fervor until morning. Francis kept repeating, “My God and my all,” and nothing more.
When morning came, Bernard made up his mind to follow Francis. It was a determination that would never stop. With heartfelt conviction, Bernard announced to Francis: “Everything I own on this earth, I have received from my God and the Lord Jesus Christ—and now I want to give it back again, as it may seem best to you.”
Then Francis said, “What you have promised me, good Bernard, is a great and wonderful work! And both of us will ask Our Lord Jesus Christ for advice about it. And we will ask him to let us know his will. Tomorrow morning we will go the church nearby and read, in the book of Gospels, what the Lord told his disciples to do.”
So they entered the Church of St. Niccolo and prayed together. Then Francis went up to the altar and, taking the Mass book, opened it and found the following words: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mt 19:21).
Then he opened the book again and found in Matthew 16:24: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” And a third time, he found that they should take nothing “for their journey” (Mk 6:8). As Francis closed the book, he turned and said: “This is our life and rule, and—not only ours—but all those who wish to follow us. Let us go forth then, and observe all the things that we have heard.”
In was in this spirit that Bernard of Quintavalle went straight to the square of the Church of San Giorgio and began to distribute all his property to the poor.
So now both Francis and Bernard could truthfully say, “My God and my all!”
Painting by Larry Zink