St. Francis' Eye Disease
In the year 1220, St. Francis visited the Holy Land and Egypt before returning to the Italian peninsula. Around that time, he began to suffer from eye problems. According to one modern eye surgeon who researched the accounts we have about his eye condition which plagued him for the rest of his life, St. Francis might have had trachoma. Trachoma is an infectious disease which affects the outer part of the eye.
The disease causes great discomfort, watering of the eyes, and sensitivity to light. As it progresses, the conditions worsen and will eventually lead to blindness. As an infectious disease, it is assumed that he might have received it during his visit to the Holy Land and Egypt because it seems to have been a very prevalent disease in that area during that time period.
St. Francis was not one to care too much for his own physical person (a sentiment for which he later expressed some regret), and, thus, did not do much to help his eyes. Thus, he suffered quite a bit, although he did allow his brothers to provide him some aid to comfort his eyes. Nonetheless, when the Bishop of Ostia, Cardinal Ugolino, recommended that he receive some help from doctors in his diocese, St. Francis resisted the offer of help for several years.
By the year 1225, Brother Elias had become the Vicar General of the order, and St. Francis had received the stigmata on September 17th of the previous year. He returned to the Church of St. Damiano where he had first heard Christ speak to him from the cross. There, he felt reassured from God that his suffering was a pledge for a future treasure in Heaven.
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Agreeing to Treatment
In his concern for St. Francis, Brother Elias was able to convince him to seek help for his eyes. However, the treatment did not help his worsening condition. Then, the Cardinal sent St. Francis another letter, and he agreed to travel to Rieti and then Fonte Colombo get help for his eyes.
It should be noted that at the time, doctors thought that too much crying would lead to blindness. It would seem that they considered the symptom-crying--to be the cause of eye diseases which led to blindness. Accordingly, St. Francis was advised not to weep too much. He ignored the advice and continued to weep in order that he might continue to be purified. This was, of course, in addition to the crying caused by his infection.
To protect his eyes from the sunlight on his trip, St. Francis had his eyes bandaged and he wore a heavy hood over his head. He also rode a horse which was unusual for him as he almost always walked. Travelling in this way speaks to how much he was suffering from the stigmata and the eye disease.
To deal with his eye problem, the doctors recommended that a hot instrument be applied from his ear to his eyebrow in order to burn away the bad phlegm which was believed to be the cause of his troubles. Even St. Francis hesitated at this method. Considering his options, St. Francis blessed Brother Fire, and then told the doctor that he was ready for the treatment. Amazingly, he felt no pain, but the treatment did not help, either. Sadly, he would continue to lose his eyesight over time. By the time of his death in 1228 he was almost blind.
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The People of Rieti Flock to See St. Francis
When he traveled through Rieti, he was swarmed with people who wanted to greet him. Because of the large crowed, St. Francis did not go into the city center but instead went to a local parish church about two miles from town. Happily, the poor parish priest welcomed St. Francis to stay with him. Accommodations for St. Francis were provided to keep him as comfortable as possible.
The crowds, however, were not dissuaded by the two mile distance, and they came in droves to see and hear from St. Francis. A sort of mission took place, and many souls grew in their faith and devotion through the ministry of St. Francis.
However, the people were not so much respecters of the priest's property and they trampled his vineyard and ate the grapes from the vines. The poor priest despaired because it was almost vintage time and his crops were ruined.
Although he said not a word to St. Francis, St. Francis knew the priest's thoughts and how the priest even regretted allowing St. Francis to stay with him. In response, he took the priest aside and asked him, "How many measures of wine does your vineyard produce in a year?"
The priest replied, "Twelve measures."
St. Francis then said to the priest, "I ask you, Father, that you bear patiently with my stay with you and the visit of the people over the next several days. I have found rest and quiet in your church. And the people are growing in their faith. And, I promise you that this year, through Our Lord Jesus Christ, you will receive twenty measures of wine."
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The Miraculous Wine
The priest agreed to this and trusted in the word of St. Francis. He stopped worrying about his grapes and helped St. Francis to share the Gospel.
And for his part, St. Francis continued to minister to the people. He believed that the good that was coming to the souls of the men and women who were coming to the church far outweighed the damage to the vineyard.
Eventually, St. Francis traveled on and left the small church outside of Rieti. However, he had labored in the vineyard of the Lord, and from his efforts much fruit had been born in the lives of those who turned and returned to God.
When it came time to make wine, the parish priest remembered the words of St. Francis. He gathered up the few bunches of grapes remaining and put them in the wine press to be pressed. And just as St. Francis said it would, the small amount of grapes returned twenty measures of wine.
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Read more about St. Francis
The classic Little Flowers of St. Francis is a wonderful collection of stories about the poor man from Assisi and his followers. These popular stories were first written about 150 years after the death of St. Francis (1181 - 1226). In the book, you will find the familiar stories such as the Wolf of Gubbio and the Sermon to the Birds, but you will also other charming stories which are lesser known. Considered a classic of Italian literature, you will enjoy getting to know St. Francis and his companions better through this collection of stories.
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