In the early 13th century, a tradesman is walking down a road in the Umbrian valley of Italy. He is bent over under the weight of the tools of his trade on his back. It is not just the weight on his back that bends him over; it is the weight on his soul. He is a God fearing man, he is a regular church attendee, he prays daily. Yet, he is afraid that he will never encounter Christ, he will never entire the Kingdom of God. He hears priests preaching that only those who enter the priesthood, those who are monks and nuns, sequestered in their monasteries and convents; will see the face of God. And people like him, no matter how hard they strive to live a holy life; will only see Christ after eons in purgatory, being cleansed of their sins.
On the road, he suddenly notices a rolled up piece of parchment. He picks it up, unrolls it, and sees a letter, written in rough Italian, signed with a Tau cross, “T.” He begins to read:
“All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength (Mt 22:39), and love their neighbors as themselves (Mt 22: 39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance:
Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them because ‘the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them’ (Is 11:2)…” *
The tradesman heart suddenly is unburdened; he sees the world anew with hope filled eyes. He hears church bells ringing; he sets off again down the road, towards the city of Assisi.
*These are words written by St. Francis of Assisi, to a group of pious lay men and women. The document has been entitled “Exhortation of Saint Francis to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance.”