St. Francis had a fear and abhorrence of lepers. One day, however, he met a man afflicted with leprosy while riding his horse near Assisi. Though the sight of the leper filled him with horror and disgust, Francis got off his horse and kissed the leper. Then the leper put out his hand, hoping to receive something. Out of compassion, Francis gave money to the leper.
But when Francis mounted his horse again and looked all around, he could not see the leper anywhere. It dawned on him that it was Jesus whom he had just kissed.
What St. Francis Learned
In his Testament, Francis wrote, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I became acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became the source of spiritual and physical consolation for me.”
Francis Did More Than Meet the Leper
Francis’ embrace of the leper was not an isolated instance. No, his ministry to lepers would only expand. Francis would go down to the colony of lepers two miles below Assisi, outside the city walls. Francis and other friars continued to minister to the lepers, feeding them, while also caring for and kissing their wounds. This became an ongoing ministry for Francis and the friars.
Reaching Out to Others
There are many ways today that we can assist those whom society rejects—those with mental illness or those who just don’t fit in because of lifestyle, orientation, or religion. In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, we can kiss and wash their wounds. We can offer them comfort or compassion. Or we can add to this list people who are seriously ill at home or in a hospital.
Painting by Larry Zink