Just a taste here, but do read more at a Life of Saint Francis:
The very next morning Francis went up to Assisi and began to preach. His words were simple, but they came so straight from the heart that all who heard him were touched.
It is not easy to hear and apply to one’s self the exhortations of preachers who, aloft in the pulpit, seem to be carrying out a mere formality; it is just as difficult to escape from the appeals of a layman who walks at our side. The amazing multitude of Protestant sects is due in a great degree to this superiority of lay preaching over clerical. The most brilliant orators of the Christian pulpit are bad converters; their eloquent appeals may captivate the imagination and lead a few men of the world to the foot of the altar, but these results are not more brilliant than ephemeral. But let a peasant or a workingman speak to those whom he meets a few simple words going directly to the conscience, and the man is always impressed, often won.
Thus the words of Francis seemed to his hearers like a flaming sword penetrating to the very depths of their conscience. His first attempts were the simplest possible; in general they were merely a few words addressed to men whom he knew well enough to recognize their weak points and strike at them with the holy boldness of love.- 72 - His person, his example, were themselves a sermon, and he spoke only of that which he had himself experienced, proclaiming repentance, the shortness of life, a future retribution, the necessity of arriving at gospel perfection.1 It is not easy to realize how many waiting souls there are in this world. The greater number of men pass through life with souls asleep. They are like virgins of the sanctuary who sometimes feel a vague agitation; their hearts throb with an infinitely sweet and subtile thrill, but their eyelids droop; again they feel the damp cold of the cloister creeping over them; the delicious but baneful dream vanishes; and this is all they ever know of that love which is stronger than death.
It is thus with many men for all that belongs to the higher life. Sometimes, alone in the wide plain at the hour of twilight, they fix their eyes on the fading lights of the horizon, and on the evening breeze comes to them another breath, more distant, fainter, and almost heavenly, awaking in them a nostalgia for the world beyond and for holiness. But the darkness falls, they must go back to their homes; they shake off their reverie; and it often happens that to the very end of life this is their only glimpse of the Divine; a few sighs, a few thrills, a few inarticulate murmurs—this sums up all our efforts to attain to the sovereign good.
Yet the instinct for love and for the divine is only slumbering. At the sight of beauty love always awakes; at the appeal of holiness the divine witness within us at once responds; and so we see, streaming from all points of the horizon to gather around those who preach in the name of the inward voice, long processions of souls athirst for the ideal. The human heart so naturally yearns to offer itself up, that we have only to meet along- 73 - our pathway some one who, doubting neither himself nor us, demands it without reserve, and we yield it to him at once. Reason may understand a partial gift, a transient devotion; the heart knows only the entire sacrifice, and like the lover to his beloved, it says to its vanquisher, “Thine alone and forever.”
That which has caused the miserable failure of all the efforts of natural religion is that its founders have not had the courage to lay hold upon the hearts of men, consenting to no partition. They have not understood the imperious desire for immolation which lies in the depths of every soul, and souls have taken their revenge in not heeding these too lukewarm lovers.
Francis had given himself up too completely not to claim from others an absolute self-renunciation. In the two years and more since he had quitted the world, the reality and depth of his conversion had shone out in the sight of all; to the scoffings of the early days had gradually succeeded in the minds of many a feeling closely akin to admiration.
This feeling inevitably provokes imitation. A man of Assisi, hardly mentioned by the biographers, had attached himself to Francis. He was one of those simple-hearted men who find life beautiful enough so long as they can be with him who has kindled the divine spark- 74 -2 in their hearts. His arrival at Portiuncula gave Francis a suggestion; from that time he dreamed of the possibility of bringing together a few companions with whom he could carry on his apostolic mission in the neighborhood.