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

 

Praying Before the San Damiano Cross

Most High, Glorious God,

Enlighten the darkness of my heart,

And give me true faith, certain hope,

And perfect charity, sense, and knowledge,

Lord, that I may carry out

Your holy and true command.

(Prayer before the San Damiano Cross – Saint Francis of Assisi)

Francis and San Damiano CrossOnce a month, I go into Boston, MA, for a meeting with my spiritual director; who is a Franciscan friar at St. Anthony Shrine on Arch St.  I was crossing that street, on my way for my July session, when I ran into two of my former co-workers.  We exchanged pleasantries; I learned that the company was still having a rough time of it.  We said our goodbyes, and I entered the Shrine.  Now this all took place on July 7th, I was entering the seventh month of unemployment.  I have been sending electronic job applications, three to six of them on a weekly basis.  To date, I have had two telephone interviews, each lasting, on average, about fifteen minutes.  I have been to several job fairs, left resumes with prospective employers; never heard anything back.  Life is getting a little “interesting.”

Usually, when I enter the first floor chapel of the Shrine, I go to the left side, where the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament.  That day I went to the right side of the chapel, where in the sanctuary is a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, praying before a large representation of the San Damiano cross.  The original cross was in the Assisian chapel of San Damiano, where a young Francis went to pray.  The origins of the cross are shrouded in mystery, but it is made in the Byzantine icon style.  Praying before the cross, Francis heard the voice of Jesus speaking from the cross: “Francis, rebuild my church!”  The rest, as they say, is history!

I seated myself before the large replica of the San Damiano cross, and began to pray, saying over and over the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  I was focused on the face of the Crucified Jesus.  I was drawn to the eyes, which are unique.  I cannot describe the experience, only to say that at that moment, I was in a different space.  The anxieties, the concerns, the worries, suddenly disappeared from my consciousness, if only for a moment in time.  A light dispelled the darkness that was in my heart.

Many of us, perhaps most of us, when times get tough, will pray to God for some kind of miracle that will solve all of our problems.  Usually we are hoping the Lord will influence the interviewer, or we will win the Lottery!  And miracles can happen, will happen, and does happen!  But what we can really hope; what we need to be aware of is that we are never alone.  We may be carrying a burden, but we do not carry it alone.  Jesus calls us to take up our crosses daily, and follow him.  The One who carried his cross to Calvary, knows our suffering, knows what pains, and fears weigh us down.  He is walking with us, encouraging us onward.  His Spirit is within us, filling us with peace, with hope.  We need only to keep our hearts; our souls open to that light.  And hear Jesus assure us, that over that dark hill of Calvary, a new dawn does await us!