Friday, October 11, 2013

Parish Pilgrimage - Day 5 - Friday, October 11

Today, we traveled 3 hours to the north to visit the town of Francis - Assisi.  It is a beautiful town nestled up in the Umbrian hills.  It was here that St. Francis lived and died - and founded the Franciscan Order (see a short history of Francis and the Franciscans below).

On arrival we took in the beautiful view from the hillside where we were able to take a quick group photo.

Then we visited the church of Saint Clare where we saw the Crucifix of San Damiano - the very one that "spoke" to St. Francis of Assisi--telling him to "rebuild my Church" (see below for an explanation), and we prayed the prayer St. Francis used to help him discern God's will: "Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart.  Give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and knowledge that I may carry out Your Holy and true command.

The church of Saint Clare also houses her incorrupt body and several relics of both St. Clare and St. Francis (parts of their habits, locks of hair, St. Francis' cincture).  Then we visited the small chapel which is the place where St. Francis was born.

Then we were off to the Basilica of St. Francis, where we saw the beautiful frescos and visited St. Francis' tomb.  (sorry, not allowed to take photos there).  But I did find this You Tube video (not mine) that shows many of the things we saw today!

And a beautiful group shot in front of the Basilica (including Vincenzo, our guide for our week in Rome).

We then went for a very nice lunch at a local hotel.  I'm supposed to mention that Randy must have said something that offended all the ladies at his table, because they left him all alone...

 - then back to St. Francis Basilica where we celebrated Mass in the "Peace Chapel" in the convent of the Franciscans.

Following Mass we headed down the hill to the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli and the Portiuncula - where the Franciscan Order truly had its beginnings.  Before going in we paused for another group photo in front of the church.

Again, no photos are allowed, but I found another You Tube video that gives you a view of the church - although it's in Italian... but you can see what we saw today!  Here in the Basilica we prayed asking God's forgiveness for all the temporal punishment due to our sins: a Plenary Indulgence (called the Indulgence of the Forgiveness of Assisi)

Then, we were back onto the bus for our trip back to Rome.

Here follows a short history of Francis:

It was the 12th century when St. Francis lived.  His father, Pietro, was a wealthy merchant and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps.  Growing up, Francis did follow his father's plans, enjoying a very rich and easy life--amid the permissiveness of the times.  From the beginning everyone loved Francis.  He was constantly happy, charming, and born leader.  Because he was so well liked, no one really tried to control or teach him - they excused him instead.

As he grew, Francis became the leader of a crowd of young people who partied wildly all night.  He was the delight of his father for fulfilling all he had hoped for him.  But despite all his worldly success, Francis wanted more.  More than wealth alone.  But not holiness!  He didn't want that!  Francis wanted to be a knight! Battle was the place to win glory and honor, so following the declaration of war between Assisi and Perugia, Francis joined up.  

But most of the troops from Assisi were butchered in the battle.  Only those who had enough money to expect someone to pay a ransom were taken prisoner.  And so Francis found himself chained in a dungeon.  But even there they say that he never lost his happy demeanor.  After a year in the dungeon, he was ransomed.  But the experience didn't change him much.  He came home and resumed his same life of party and high society.  Nor did it change what he wanted in life: glory.  So Francis joined the 4th Crusade to go and fight.  But he never got any further than one day's journey from Assisi.  He had a dream: God told him he had it all wrong and told him to go back home - which he did - only to be called a coward by the people in the town.  

Slowly, Francis began his conversion.  He started to spend more time in prayer; he went off to a cave to weep for his many sins - but even there, God's mercy overwhelmed him with joy.  But Francis couldn't be bothered with all of this.  He had a business to run.

One day, riding through the countryside, Francis, the man who loved beauty, came face-to-face with a leper.  Repelled by his appearance and his smell, Francis nevertheless jumped down from his horse and kissed the leper's hand.  When his kiss was returned, Francis found himself filled with joy.  As he rode off, he turned to look at the leper once more - but he was gone.  He always reflected on this experience as a test from God - a test that he had passed.

His journey of conversion now led him to the ancient church of San Daminao, which was crumbling and in
bad repair.  While praying, he heard Christ on the crucifix speak to him: "Francis, repair my church."  He assumed God meant this building - so he took a great deal of money from his father's business and intended to repair the church structure.  His father saw this as theft and thought his son had gone mad.  His father dragged him to the bishop in front of the entire town - demanding that Francis return the stolen money and renounce all his rights as heir.

The kindly bishop told Francis to return to the money - trusting that God would provide.  That was what Francis needed to hear.  He not only gave back the money, but stripped off all his clothes and, in front of the stunned crowd, exclaimed: "Pietro Berardone is no longer my father.  From now on I can say with complete freedom 'Our Father who art in heaven.'"  And so, half naked, Francis went off into the woods, singing.  From here on, Francis has nothing... but he really had found everything.  

He went back to what he considered God's call.  He begged for stones and rebuilt the church of San Damiano with his own hands - not realizing that what God wanted was not for him to rebuild the church, but to rebuild the Church.  The Church was in a bad state: scandal, avarice, and many other difficulties.  

Francis began to preach (he was never a priest, though was later ordained a deacon - under protest).  What he preached was not reform, but return to God and obedience to the Church.  Someone once asked him if a priest who was known to be living with a woman was able to truly consecrate the Eucharist (or if, because of the great sin, the Eucharist was polluted), he went to the priest and kissed his consecrated hands - because they had held God - despite his personal sinfulness.  

Slowly Francis attracted others who wanted to follow his way of life: sleeping in the open, begging for garbage to eat, and loving God completely.  With these companions, Francis realized he now had to have some kind of direction, so opened the Bible.  He read the command to the rich young man to "sell all you have and give to the poor," he read the order to the apostles to take nothing on our journey, and he heard the demand to take up our cross daily and follow the Lord.  "Here is our rule," Francis said.  That was all it took to live by the Gospel  

This brotherhood that was formed included, not just his followers, but all of creation.  He felt that all of nature, all God's creatures, were part of his brotherhood: the sparrow as much his brother as the Pope.  One of the famous stories says that Francis intervened with a wolf that was eating the townspeople by talking to it and asking it never to kill again.  This wolf became a town pet who made sure it was always well-fed.

Francis and his brothers set out to preach as the Bible said: "Two by two."  At first people were skeptical of these men dressed in rags.  But even ran away from them thinking the insanity was contagious.   They didn't realize how right they were--it WAS contagious!  Soon, these same people began to notice that these barefoot beggars were filled with joy.  Soon, those who were afraid of them were greeting them with blls and smiles.    

Francis didn't try to eliminate poverty - but instead tried to make it holy.  They worked for what they needed and begged only if they had to.  But they could accept no money.  Possessing anything was the death of love for Francis.  And it was in this poverty that he found true freedom.  

Francis' final years were filled with suffering and humiliation.  Praying to share in Christ's passion he had a vision and received the Stigmata-the markes of the nails and the lance wound that Christ suffered.  

Years of poverty and wandering made Francis ill - even going blind.  And how did he respond to his suffering?  It was then that he wrote the famous Canticle of the Sun expressing his brotherhood with all creation in praising God.  He never recovered from his illness and died on October 4, 1226 at the age of 45. 

1 comment:

  1. Looks like such a lovely time.....Fr., you're bringing some of that ice cream back right :)