Last year in September 2015, I was fortunate enough to spend a month in Europe. One of the goals for me in our two weeks in Italy was so visit Assisi in Umbria. One of the people that I fell in love with during my studies of theology was St Francis of Assisi. St Francis (1181-1226) renounced wealth and social pre-eminance for a life of utter poverty and fearlessness. He also believed that God was to be found in all things and he held a sacred love for all animals and Gods creation. It was a complete thrill and very deep personal experience for me to walk in his historic footsteps.
Eight hundred years ago a man from Assisi, Italy, was saving the church from its corruption, clericalism, irrelevance and insincerity by waking people up to a renewed focus on the Gospel. There are six main steps that Saint Francis taught and this is why his teaching and life resonates with me. They are: friendship, poverty, embracing the other (especially those on the margins and who are rejected by society), care – of people creatures and creation, spirituality, death. Francis transformed the church with these teachings and refocused christians on the Gospel of Christ instead of the power of the church.
In a document called his “Testament,” written shortly before he died, Francis said that his conversion was due to his work with lepers, a number of whom lived outside Assisi. He explained, “God allowed me to begin my repentance in this way: when I lived in sin, seeing lepers was a very bitter experience for me. God himself guided me into their midst and among them I performed acts of charity. What appeared bitter to me became sweetness of the soul and body.”
After having abandoned the wealth of his family Saint Francesco found asylum in this old chapel:
Nowadays for its own protection, it is located inside the large Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. In this place, on March 28th 1211 Saint Francesco obtained from Jesus during a dream the indulgence of the Forgiveness. This was also the little church where Francis first heard God’s command, “Fix my church Francis,”.
The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels) is a church situated in the plain at the foot of the hill of Assisi, Italy. The basilica was constructed between 1569 and 1679 enclosing the 9th century little church, the Porziuncola, the most sacred place for the Franciscans. It was here that the young Francis of Assisi understood his vocation and renounced the world in order to live in poverty among the poor and thus started the Franciscan movement.
Whilst in Assisi my daughter and I stayed in the Hotel Cenacolo which is a renovated convent. The convent was originally built for pilgrims to this peaceful hillside town. Inside the convent was a small Franciscan chapel. I spent a quite a bit of time in here in reflection and prayer. I used this time to pour my heart out to God. I allowed my grief to well up and I gave myself permission to connect with my pain over the state of the Church today. My despair of patriarchy, inequality and lack of care for people in general but particularly those who live on the edges. I got angry in that chapel at the state of the Church and the way that it underrates and undervalues people. My own experience of abandonment and rejection were laid at the cross in that little town in Umbria and I left feeling lighter and one step closer to wholeness in my healing process.
I will finish this reflection with the prayer of Saint Francis. This ideal expressed in this prayer is as relevant today as it was eight hundred years ago. This is my prayer.
Lord make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
These photos were taken at the Papal Basilica of Francis of Assisi
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