Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Poverello of Assisi: St. Francis and his feastday, 4 October 2007

Most High, glorious God,

bring light to the darkness of my heart

and give me true faith, certain hope and perfect charity,

sense and knowledge, Lord,

that I might carry out your holy and true command.


St. Francis composed this simple prayer apparently early on in conversion experience. He would pray this before the Crucifix of San Damiano on the hill outside of the city of Assisi. San Damiano was a hostel for pilgrims en route to Rome, but had fallen into disrepair from neglect. It was before this Crucifix that Francis heard the Lord Jesus speak to him and say, "Francis, go repair my Church which you see is falling into ruins!"

Francis initiated his church-rebuilding campaign shortly afterward, thinking originally that it was to this chapel and a couple others that he was called to physically renew and repair. However, it wasn't till later on, as he reviewed his life, that he realized that the Lord had called him to a renewal of the People of God, not just stone and mortar!

Above I used the word "conversion" -- what was that all about? Francis (Giovanni Baptista Bernardone) was reared in a Catholic household, the elder son of the Bernardone family. He was known to be generous to the poor; he was also known to be lavishly generous to his friends for parties! So, you can imagine that he was popular.

But after his excursion into warfare (Assisi v. Perugia -- Perugia won), he became a prisoner of war in the dungeons of Perugia, where he apparently contracted a form of tuberculosis and nearly died. After being ransomed from the prison by his father, Pietro, Francis returned to Assisi a changed man. He tried another venture in warfare, but turned back after a disturbing dream. He began to reconsider the direction of his life. That is when we began going to San Damiano to pray before the Crucifix, alone in a lonely place -- to confront his inner self and to meet the Lord. Such is the stuff of discernment.

It was out of this interior struggle and encounter that eventually led Francis to renounce the world and to become the poor man, the poverello of Assisi, a "fool for Christ", who wanted to live for Jesus alone. And so he embarked on the greatest adventure a human being can do -- to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Crucifix of San Damiano

"Francis, go repair my Church which you see is falling into ruins."

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