LITTLE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS
PART THREE - THE LIFE OF THE BLESSED BROTHER GILES, COMPANION OF ST FRANCIS
HOW BROTHER GILES, WITH THREE COMPANIONS WAS RECEIVED INTO THE ORDER OF FRIAR'S MINOR
Inasmuch as the example of holy men serves to detach the minds of devout hearers from transitory pleasures, and to excite them to the desire of eternal salvation, to the honour of God and of his most holy Mother, our Lady of St Mary, we will say a word concerning the graces wrought by the Holy Ghost in the soul of our holy brother Giles, who, even while he wore the secular habit, being touched by the Spirit of God, began to strive in all his actions to please God alone.
At that time St Francis appeared as a new herald of Christ to give an example of holy living, of humility, and penance. Then, two years after his conversion, a man named Bernard, endowed with marvellous prudence and very rich in temporal goods, with Peter Cattani, was drawn by his example to the observance of evangelical poverty. By the counsel of St Francis they distributed all their temporal possessions, for the love of God, among the poor, arraying themselves, in the glory of patience and evangelical perfection, with the habit of the Friars Minor; and all their life did they keep their promise then made with the greatest fervour and perfection. Eight days after their said conversion and distribution, Brother Giles, being still in the secular habit, and seeing the contempt of earthly things manifested by these noble knights of Assisi, to the great admiration of the whole world, on the Feast of St George in the year 1209, very early in the morning, as one in earnest about his salvation, went in great fervour of spirit to the church of St Gregory, where was the monastery of St Clare. Being greatly desirous to see St Francis, he went, as soon as he had finished his prayers, towards the hospital for lepers, where St Francis dwelt apart in profound humility, with Brother Bernard and Brother Peter Cattani.
Being come to a crossway, and not knowing which road to take, he prayed to Christ our precious guide, who led him straight to the hut. And as he pondered upon the cause of his coming, he met St Francis returning from the forest, where he had been praying.
Then Brother Giles threw himself at his feet, and besought him to receive him into his company for the love of God. And St Francis, beholding the devout countenance of Brother Giles, answered and said: "Dearest Brother, God hath conferred a great grace upon thee. If the emperor were to come to Assisi, and propose to make one of its citizens his knight or private chamberlain, would not such an offer be joyfully accepted as a great mark of honour and distinction? How much more shouldst thou rejoice that God has called thee to be his knight and chosen servant, to observe the perfection of his holy gospel! Therefore, do thou stand firm in the vocation to which God hath called thee." And taking him by the hand he raised him up, and bringing him into the hut, he called Brother Bernard, and said to him: "Almighty God has sent us a good brother; let us, therefore, rejoice in the Lord, and eat together in charity." When they had eaten, Brother Francis and this Giles went to Assisi to obtain some cloth to make him a habit; and by the way they met a poor woman, who asked an alms for the love of God. St Francis, not knowing where to find anything for the poor woman, turned to Brother Giles with an angelic countenance, and said: "For the love of God, dearest brother, let us give her your mantle." And Brother Giles obeys with so willing a heart, that the holy father thought he saw him and his alms received forthwith into heaven, whereat he experienced an exceeding interior joy. St Francis having procured the cloth, and caused the habit to be made, received Brother Giles into the Order, and he became one of the most glorious religious whom the world has ever seen in the contemplative life. Immediately after his reception, St Francis went with him into the March of Ancona, singing with him and greatly praising the Lord of heaven and earth. And he said to Brother Giles: "My son, this Religion of ours shall be like unto the fisherman, who casteth his nets into the water, and taketh a great multitude of fishes, whereof he keepeth the larger, casting the smaller back into the sea." Brother Giles marvelled at this prophecy, for the Order at that time numbered only three friars besides St Francis himself. Moreover, St Francis had not yet begun to preach publicly to the people, but only admonished men and women as he met with them by the way, saying, with loving simplicity: "Love God, and fear him, and do worthy penance for your sins." And Brother Giles would say, in his turn: "Do this which my spiritual father says to you, for he speaketh excellently well."
HOW BROTHER GILES WENT TO ST JAMES THE GREAT
By the permission of St Francis, Brother Giles went once, in the process of time, to St James the Great, in Galicia, and in that whole journey he broke his fast once only because of the great poverty of the country. And as he went asking alms, and finding none who would give to him, he came one evening by chance to a barn, where a few beans lay scattered on the ground. These he gathered up, and supped on them; and in this barn he passed the night, for he loved to abide in solitary places remote from the haunts of men, the better to give himself to watching and prayer. And God so strengthened him by this supper, that if he had eaten of ever so rich a banquet he could not have been so well refreshed. Proceeding then upon his way, he met with a poor man, who asked an alms of him for the love of God. And Brother Giles, charitable as he was, had nothing to give but the habit he wore. So he cut the hood from his cloak, and gave it to that poor man for the love of God, and so journeyed on without a hood for twenty days together. And as he was returning through Lombardy, a man called to him, to whom he went willingly, expecting to receive an alms; but when he stretched out his hand, the man put a pair of dice into it, inviting him to play. Brother Giles replied very humbly, "God forgive thee, my son." And as he passed through the world he met with much mockery and insult, and endured it all in peace.
OF BROTHER GILES'S MANNER OF LIFE WHEN HE WENT TO THE HOLY SEPULCHRE
Brother Giles, by the permission of St Francis, went to visit the Holy Sepulchre of Christ; and being come to the port of Brindisi, he was obliged to tarry there many days, because there was on ship ready to sail. So Brother Giles, desiring to live by his labour, got a vessel, and, filling it with water, he went around the city, crying: "Who wants water?" And for his labour he received bread, and all things necessary for the bodily support of himself and his companion. Then he passed over the sea, and with great devotion visited the Sepulchre of Christ and the other Holy Places. And as he returned, he abode for some days in the city of Ancona; and because he was accustomed to live by his labour, he made baskets of rushes, and sold them, not for money, but for bread for himself and his companion; and he carried the dead to their burial for the same wages. And when even this failed him, he begged at the table of Jesus Christ, asking alms from door to door. And with so much labour and in poverty, he returned to St Mary of the Angels.
HOW BROTHER GILES PRAISED OBEDIENCE MORE THAN PRAYER
As a brother was one day praying in his cell, his superior sent him an obedience to leave his prayer and go out to beg. The friar went forthwith to Brother Giles, and said to him: "Father, I was at prayer, and the guardian had bade me go forth to beg; now it seems to me far better that I should continue praying." Brother Giles answered: "My son, do you not yet know or understand what prayer is? True prayer is to do the will of our superior; and it is great pride in him who has submitted his neck to the yoke of holy obedience to desire to follow his own will in anything, in order, as he thinks, to perform a work of greater perfection. The perfectly obedient religious is like a horseman mounted on a mettlesome steed, which carries him swiftly and fearlessly on his way; but the disobedient religious, on the contrary, is like a man seated on a meagre, weak, or vicious horse, who is in danger of perishing by the way, or of falling into the hands of his enemies. I tell thee that, though a man were raised to so high a degree of contemplation as to hold converse with angels, yet were he interrupted in that colloquy by the voice of obedience, he ought immediately to leave communing with the angels, and obey the command of his superior."
HOW BROTHER GILES LIVED BY THE LABOUR OF HIS HANDS
When Brother Giles was once living in a convent of the Friars Minor at Rome, he desired, as he had done ever since his entrance into the Order, to employ himself in manual labour, and thus did he spend his day. Early in the morning he heard Mass with great devotion: then he went into a forest about eight miles out of Rome, and bringing home a great bundle of wood on his back, he sold it for bread and other provisions. One day as he was bringing home his load of wood, a lady met him and offered to buy it; so, having agreed with her as to the price, he carried it to her house. The lady, notwithstanding the agreement, seeing that he was a religious, gave him much more than she had promised. Then said Brother Giles: "Good lady, I would not have the vice of avarice to gain the mastery of me, therefore I will not take from thee more than we agreed upon." And, instead of taking more than the stipulated sum, he took but half of it, and went his way, leaving the lady in great admiration. Brother Giles always showed the life scrupulous integrity in all his dealings. He helped the labourers to gather the olives and pluck the grapes. Being one day in the market-place, he heard a man asking another to help him to beat walnuts, offering him reward for so doing; but the other excused himself because the place was far off and difficult to access. Then Brother Giles said to him: "My friend, if thou wilt give me a part of the walnuts, I will come with thee to beat them." So the agreement being made, he went with the man; and first making the sign of the cross, he climbed the high walnut tree, and in great fear began to beat. When he had finished beating, he gathered up more for his share than he knew how to carry; so taking off his habit, and tying the sleeves and the hood, he made a sack of it, and filling it with walnuts, he took it upon his back and carried it to Rome, and with great joy gave the walnuts to the poor for the love of God. When the corn was reaped, Brother Giles went with other poor persons to gather the ears of corn; and if any one offered him a handful of grain, he would say: "Brother, I have no granary wherein to store it, and for the most part, what I gather I give to the poor for the love of God." Brother Giles had little leisure to help others at such times, for he had to fulfill his appointed task, and also to say the canonical hours, and make his mental prayer. When once he went to the fountain of San Sisto to fetch water for the monks of that place, a man asked him some water to drink. Brother Giles answered: "How can I take the vessel half filled to the monks?" On this the man, being angry, spoke many hard and reproachful words to Brother Giles, who returned very sorrowful to the monks. Then borrowing a large vessel, he came back forthwith to the fountain, and finding the man there, he said: "Take, my friend, and drink as much as thy soul desireth, and be not angry that it seemed to me unjust to take a scant measure of water to those holy monks." Then he, being constrained and conscience-stricken by the charity and humility of Brother Giles, acknowledged his fault, and from that day forth held him in great reverence.
HOW BROTHER GILES WAS MIRACULOUSLY ASSISTED IN A GREAT NECESSITY WHEN, BY REASON OF A HEAVY FALL OF SNOW, HE WAS HINDERED FROM GOING OUT TO QUEST.
Brother Giles was once staying in Rome, at the house of a Cardinal, when Lent was drawing near; and being unable there to enjoy the quiet of mind which he desired, he said to the Cardinal: "My Father, I pray you give me permission to go with my companion to spend this Lent in some solitary place"; and the Cardinal answered him: "Alas! dearest brother, whither wouldst thou go? This is a time of great scarcity, and thou art not well accustomed to these desert places; wherefore I beseech thee remain with me, for I account it a singular grace to be permitted to provide for thy wants for the love of God." But Brother Giles being determined to go, went out of Rome to a high mountain, where there had once been a castle, and where there was now a forsaken church dedicated to St Lawrence; this he entered with his companion, remaining there in prayer and meditation. They were not known in the place, wherefore little reverence or consideration was shown to them, so that they were in great poverty, and moreover a heavy fall of snow came on, which lasted many days. They could not leave the church; they had no food with them, neither was any thing brought them from without; and thus they remained shut up for three days and three nights.
Brother Giles, seeing that he could earn nothing for his livelihood, nor go out to beg alms, said to his companion: "My dearest brother, let us cry aloud to the Lord, that of his loving pity he would provide for this our extreme necessity; for we have heard how many holy monks, being in great straits, have called upon God to provide for them in their need."
So, after their example, these two holy men betook themselves to prayer, beseeching God with all their hearts to provide a remedy for their distress; and God, who is all-compassionate, had regard to their faith, devotion, and simplicity in manner following: A certain man, casting his eyes upon the church where Brother Giles and his companion were shut up, said to himself by an inspiration from God: "It may be that some devout person is doing penance in that church, and by reason of the snow he can obtain no supply for his wants, and may perhaps die of hunger." Wherefore, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost he said: "Of a surety I will go and see if what I imagine be true or no." So taking bread and a flask of wine, he went his way, and with great difficulty arrived at the church, where he found Brother Giles and his companion most devoutly absorbed in prayer; but so wasted were they with hunger that they looked rather like dead men than living; and he had great compassion for them, and having warmed and comforted them he returned and told his neighbours of the extremity and necessity of these friars, praying and exhorting them, for the love of God, to provide for their needs.
Many, therefore, after his example, brought them bread and wine for the love of God, besides other things necessary for food, arranging also among themselves that, during that whole Lent, all things needful were provided for them. And Brother Giles, reflecting on the great mercy of God and the charity of these people, said to his companion: "Dearest brother, hitherto we have prayed to God to provide for our necessities, and he has heard us; now it behoveth us to give him thanks, and to pray for those who have fed us by their alms, and for all Christian people." And such grace did God grant to the fervour and devotion of Brother Giles, that many, after his example, forsook this blind world, and many who had no vocation to religion did most austere penance in their own homes.
OF THE DAY OF THE HOLY BROTHER GILES'S DEATH
On the vigil of St George, at the hour of Matins, fifty-two years being now elapsed since he received the habit of St Francis, the soul of Brother Giles was received by God into the glory of Paradise: to wit, on the Feast of St George.
HOW A HOLY MAN, BEING IN PRAYER, SAW THE SOUL OF BROTHER GILES PASS TO ETERNAL LIFE
A holy man, who was praying when Brother Giles passed from this life, saw his soul, with a multitude of others newly freed from Purgatory, ascend into heaven; and he beheld Jesus Christ, with a multitude of angels, going to meet the soul of Brother Giles, and so ascending again with all those angels and blessed souls, and with the sound of a most ravishing melody, to heaven.
HOW, BY THE MERITS OF BROTHER GILES, THE SOUL OF THE FRIEND OF A FRIAR PREACHER WAS DELIVERED FROM THE PAINS OF PURGATORY
While Brother Giles was lying sick, a few days before his death, a certain friar of St Dominic became sick unto death. Another friar, who was a friend of his, said to the sick brother: "My brother, I desire, if God permit, that after thy death thou return to me and tell me in what state thou art"; and the sick man promised to return if it should be possible. He died on the same day with Brother Giles, and after his death, he appeared to the living Friar Preacher, and said: "It is the will of God that I should fulfill my promise." Then said the living man to the dead: "How is it with thee?" and the dead answered: "All is well; for I died on the very day that a holy Friar Minor, named Giles, passed from this life; to whom for his great sanctity Christ granted that he should carry with him to holy Paradise all the souls that were in Purgatory, among whom was I suffering great torment; and now, by the merits of the holy Brother Giles, I am delivered from them"; and having said this, he forthwith disappeared; and that friar revealed the vision to no man. But after a time this same friar fell sick, and immediately suspecting that God had struck him because he had not revealed the virtue and the glory of Brother Giles, he sent for the Friars Minor; and there came to him ten, two by two; and they being gathered together with the Friars Preachers, he declared to them with great devotion the aforesaid vision; and, diligent inquiry having been made, it was found that the two had indeed passed from this life on one and the same day.
HOW GOD GAVE SPECIAL GRACES TO BROTHER GILES, AND OF THE YEAR OF HIS DEATH
Brother Bonaventura of Bagnoreggio said of Brother Giles, that God had given him special graces, not only for himself, but for all those also who should recommend themselves to him with a devout intention in any spiritual need. He wrought many miracles, both in his lifetime and after his death, as appeareth by his legend, and he passed from this life on the Feast of St George, in the year 1252. He is buried at Perugia in the convent of the Friars Minor.
THE FIRST ENGLISH TRANSLATION, REVISED AND EMENDED BY DOM ROGER HUDLESTON, WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY ARTHUR LIVINGSTON (THE HERITAGE PRESS, NEW YORK).
This text is in the public domain.
Provided by Kathy Sewell