Once when St.Francis was suffering from a grave infirmity of the eyes, Messer Ugolino, the Cardinal protector of the Order, because of the great tenderness he felt towards him, wrote to St.Francis asking him to come to him at Rieti, where there were the best physicians of the eyes. When St.Francis received the Cardinal's letter, he first went to St.Clare, the most devout spouse of Christ, at San Damiano, to give her some consolation and then go to the Cardinal. In the night following St.Francis' arrival there, his eyes grew so much worse that he could no longer see the light. As he was therefore unable to depart, St.Clare caused a cabin of reeds to be made for him, so that he might rest there. (There he stayed for fifty days.) But the pain of his infirmity was so great, beside the multitude of mice which were a very great nuisance to him, that St.Francis could find no rest, neither by day nor by night. And as he endured more of these pains and tribulations he began to ponder and to realize that they were a scourge of God for his sins. And he began to thank God with all his heart and with his lips, and he cried out in a loud voice, saying:
"My Lord, I am worthy of this and of worse ills. My Lord Jesus Christ, Thou good shepherd who hast shown us unworthy sinners Thy mercy by diverse pains and bodily anguish, grant grace and virtue to me, Thy little sheep, that through no infirmity, anguish of suffering I may be divided from Thee.
When he had uttered this prayer, a voice from heaven spoke to him thus: "Francis, answer Me. If the whole earth were gold, and all the seas and rivers and springs were balm, and all the mountains, hills and rocks were precious stones, and you were to find a treasure so far superior to these things as gold is superior to earth, balm to water and precious stones to mountains and rocks, and if th is noble treasure were given you by this infirmity, should you not be content and well pleased?"
St.Francis answered: "Lord, I am not worthy of so precious a treasure." And God's voice said to him: "Rejoice, Francis, for this treasure is eternal life which I reserve for you, and from now on I invest you with it, and this infirmity and afflictions is a pledge of that blessed treasure."
Thereupon St.Francis called his companion, rejoicing greatly at so glorious a promise, and said: "Let us go to the Cardinal." And after having comforted St.Clare with holy words and taken leave of her with great humility, he took the road to Rieti. When he got near the town, such a multitude of people came out to meet him that he did not want to go into it, but withdrew into a church which lay at a distance of about two miles from the city. When the citizens learnt that he was in that church, they hastened out to see him in such numbers that the vineyard of the church was quite spoiled and all the grapes were picked. The priest was deeply grieved at this, and repented that he had asked S.Francis to stay in his church.
When God revealed to St.Francis these thoughts in the heart of the priest, he sent for him and said: "Dearest father, how many measures of wine does this vineyard yield to you in a year, when it is at its best?"
The priest answered that it yielded twelve measures. St.Francis said: "I beg you, father, bear patiently with me and allow me to stay here a few days, for I find much rest here, and allow everybody to pick grapes from your vineyard for the love of God and of the poor little man that I am, and I promise you in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ that it will give you a yearly yield of twenty measures."
And this St.Francis did in return for staying there, because of the great uplifting of souls which was manifest in the people who came, many of whom departed inebriated with divine love and abandoned the world.
The priest, relying on St.Francis' promise, gave all who came to him the freedom of the vineyard. Marvellous to relate! The vineyard was totally despoiled, so that there barely remained some small bunches of grapes. The time of vintage came and the priest picked those few little bunches, put them in the vat and pressed them, and, as St.Francis had promised, he obtained twenty measures of the best wine.
In this miracle we are given manifestly to understand that, just as the despoiled vineyard yielded an abundance of wine by the merits of St.Francis, so the Christian people, barren of virtue through sin, through the merits and the doctrine of St.Francis, often abounds in the good fruits of penitence. Praised be Jesus Christ, Amen.