Feast of St. Clare of Assisi – 2016

Today, the Franciscan Family, with rest of the Catholic Church, celebrates the memory of Clare of Assisi.  A young noblewoman of the medieval city of Assisi, she was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, to leave a life of wealth and influence, and follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, guided by Francis, she and a group of liked minded Assisian women, formed a community of prayer, and evangelical poverty.  Living a hidden life of contemplation, with very few known writings in existence; she has been a source of inspiration to many to seek a more intimate relationship with God.

The Order she confounded with Francis still exists, now known as the Poor Clares.

San Damiano Cross Is Going Home!

San Damiano crossThe Franciscan blogosphere is buzzing with the news that the Cross from which Christ spoke to St. Francis of Assisi, is returning to the chapel of San Damiano!

During his period of conversion, Francis was known to visit some of the chapels that dotted the Italian landscape around Assisi.  Many were in ill-repair, one of them was the chapel of San Damiano.  Francis was said to have been drawn to the icon cross of Christ Crucified that was hanging in the chapel.  The painter of the Byzantine style cross is unknown, but experts estimate its creation took place around 1100 AD.

The story goes that when Francis entered the chapel, and knelt before the cross, he heard the voice of Jesus Christ coming from the image on it.  The Crucified Christ said to Francis: “go and repair my house, which as you can see is falling into ruins.”  Francis immediately assumed that the Divine command referred only to the chapel he was in.  He leaped to his feet, gave some coins to the priest in residence there, to keep the votive lamp burning in front of the cross, and then set off to purchase building materials.  And the rest is, as they say, history.  After rebuilding San Damiano, Francis went on to rebuild several other countryside chapels.  Christ would soon lead Francis to the realization the his call was not just to repair a few chapels, but to repair the whole spiritual edifice known as the Catholic Church.  The Franciscan movement he founded would draw thousands of individuals to join him.  Among them, a young woman by the name of Clare of Assisi, and other women as well.  They became known as the Poor Ladies of Assisi.  We know them today as the Poor Clares.

Francis installed Clare and her sisters in San Damiano, and they became the custodians of the crucifix.  Later, after the death of St. Clare, a basilica church was built within walls of Assisi, to house her remains.  The Poor Clare community also moved into Assisi, for safety, and they brought the crucifix with them.  The San Damiano Cross has been on display within the Basilica of St. Clare for many years.  Now it is being returned to San Damiano, it is going home.

San Damiano Monastery

 

I Want to Fly to Assisi

Where would I go if could be immediately transported somewhere?  I and other bloggers were challenged to write a post, answering this question.

I would like to be soaring over the green Umbrian countryside of Italy, like a brown sparrow, heading towards the small Italian city of Assisi.  It is an ancient city; most of the buildings were built during the Middle Ages, still being occupied.  I am heading towards a large Catholic Basilica, the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, the last resting place of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Saint Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant.  His father, who made his money selling fine cloth to French merchants, nicknamed his son Francesco as a tribute to the French.  Francis was the city playboy; it was not a party if Francis was not invited.  He was a social climber, who longed to belong to the nobility, to become a knight.  He was a soldier, a prisoner of war, a veteran who was broken in body and soul.  And because of his brokenness, Jesus Christ entered into Francis’ heart; and Francis experienced a conversion, a conversion to the Gospel life.  He began to give his money to any poor person who asked for alms.  He went among the lepers, caring for them, washing their sores, and binding them with bandages.  In the solitude of caves, he began to develop a deep spiritual, prayer life.  He reflected on the gospels, he entered into an intimate relationship with God.  Francis strived to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He gave away everything he owned, dressed like a beggar, in a grey, brownish robe.  He went about serving the poor, preaching in the streets, and marketplaces; proclaiming to all who would listen to him; that God loved them all.  Men, who heard his words, saw his lifestyle, were drawn to Francis, and soon he had twelve followers.  Twelve became a hundred; the hundred became thousands, all promising to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the example of Saint Francis.  They became the Order of Lesser Brothers, Order Friars Minor.  Women, like Clare of Assisi, were also drawn to this Troubadour of Christ.  With Clare, he formed a contemplative community of women, the Poor Ladies of Assisi, now known as the Poor Clares.  There were other men and women, farmers and tradesmen, wives and seamstresses, who also wanted to live the Gospel, and sought Francis’ guidance.  They became the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the Third Order of St. Francis; today known as the Secular Franciscan Order.

I became attracted to St. Francis during my third and last year at the archdiocesan seminary.  I had decided to take years’ leave from the seminary; I spent the year with a Christian ecumenical organization which provided worship services in the National Parks.  I was sent to Yellowstone NP, lead services during the weekend, worked in the kitchen the rest of the time.  And in the midst of all that natural beauty, I read about Francis and the Franciscan life.  After two years, I entered formation to become a Friar.  I was to realize that God had another path for me, so I left the Friars, but the Franciscan spirit was already embedded in my heart.  I would later join the Secular Franciscan Order; I have been a professed member for over 25 years.  And I am always wishing I had the means to make a pilgrimage to Assisi, to visit that Basilica.

Francis died on the evening of October 3, 1226, at the age of 44 years old.  He was canonized a saint in 1228.  The friars were already beginning the construction of the Basilica.  The best architects, artisans and artists, the pioneers of the Italian Renaissance, were brought onto the project.  The Basilica was constructed in two levels, the upper church with vaulted ceilings, and large stain glass windows.  The lower church is more enclosed, but both levels are covered with beautiful frescoes, painted by Italian master artists.  The Basilica is considered an international treasure.  However, when the Basilica was finished; the Friars buried Francis in secret; for fear that rival cities would try to steal the remains.  They did such a good job hiding the burial site, that Francis’ body was lost until 1819.  When the burial site was rediscovered, a new crypt was constructed under the lower church.  The crypt has a small chapel, with an altar.  Above the altar is a stone coffin, containing the bones of St. Francis.  It is bound with iron straps, and an iron grill over the entrance.  The walls of the crypt are bare stone, simple, unadorned.  It is there I wish I could sit, contemplating, in the dim light, the last resting place of a man who continues to inspire Christians and non-Christians.  And in the stillness of that place, maybe I can hear a whisper, wishing me and all who come there: “Pace e Bene!”  “Peace and Good!”

Basilica of Saint Francis lower Church Tomb of St Francis Upper Church