The past goes in and out of focus according to which features we attempt to see more clearly. Here is a composite artwork showing the beginning of the pilgrim journey that was the life of St. Francis of Assisi. This is on a wall of the French Franciscan church, Notre Dame des Graces, in Brussels. In one scene we see Francis naked, having returned his clothes to his father, a cloth merchant, in order to become a humble, powerless follower of Christ. A herald of the gospel but also a pilgrim, dedicated to the merciful preaching of peace. He travelled on foot, not by horse.
Twelve years after the early friars came to Canterbury, and settled at Greyfriars, off Stour Street, they arrived in Brussels (in 1238). The friary in which they lived has, in recent times, been excavated. What remains is a few walls and ruined structures, preserved as a museum. No community lasts forever, especially in regions where wars have been frequent and destruction a large-scale reality. It is good for us to have reminders of how easily our religious ideals and convictions become casualties of mortality or a loss of spiritual liveliness.
But we need to remind each other of what brings us together to pray, collaborate, and set up a viable shared life of conversion for our own day. Community does not happen purely by accident, nor does it stay vigorous simply through the availability of a few organisers.
This is a view of that location now: