What do we really know about Saint Francis of Assisi? Much has been written about this medieval saint from Umbria in present-day central Italy. Yet the image we have of him does not always correspond to reality, as his fame is often linked to legends and texts that have no historical basis.
Francis was an exceptional man, as his own contemporaries testified. Too often, though, this emphasis has obscured his humanity. Francis immersed himself with all his heart in daily life because he was certain that the Son of God had become man to share our full human experience.
This was the central fact of Francis' life: He burned with love of God. This love was a boundless love that flowed from his fiery heart. He admitted that he could not explain such an abundance of love, except through the words of Jesus, who "came to cast fire upon the earth" (Lk 12:49).
The perennial relevance of Francis, even in our increasingly secular world, lies in the perennial newness of the Gospel. The Gospel always communicates Jesus Christ, who is beyond, always ahead of us, and never outdated. Francis' radical evangelism consistently reminds us of the absolute nature of the Gospel.