Tag Archives: Assisi

11 October, Little Flowers XCVIII: sing as you die.

Once again the friars are at a loss what to make of Francis in the face of his suffering and imminent death. Not everyone sings songs of praise on their deathbed, but we might if we were assured of eternal life within a few days. Firstly, a few words about another witness to the stigmata; we will meet Madonna Jacopa again later.

Madonna Jacopa di Settensoli of Rome, who was the greatest lady of her time in Rome and was most devoted to Saint Francis, saw them before he died, and, after his death, saw and kissed them many times with great reverence; for she came from Rome to Assisi, by Divine revelation, to the death-bed of Saint Francis; and her coming was after this manner. 

For some days before his death, Saint Francis lay sick at Assisi in the palace of the Bishop, with some of his companions; and, notwithstanding his sickness, he often sang certain lauds of Christ. One day, one of his companions said unto him: “Father, thou knowest that these citizens have great faith in thee, and hold thee for a saintly man, and therefore they may think that, if thou art that which that they believe thee to be, thou shouldest, in this thine infirmity, think upon thy death, and rather weep than sing, in that thou art so exceeding sick; and know that thy singing and ours, which thou makest us to sing, is heard of many, both within and without the palace; for this palace is guarded on thy account by many armed men, who perchance may take bad ensample therefrom. Wherefore I believe (said this friar) that thou wouldest do well to depart hence, and that we should all of us return to Santa Maria degli Angeli; for this is no place for us, among seculars.” 

Saint Francis answered him: “Dearest friar, thou knowest that two years ago, when we abode at Foligno, God revealed unto thee the term of my life; and in like manner also He revealed unto me that, a few days hence, the said term shall end, in this sickness; and in that revelation God made me certain of the remission of all my sins, and of the bliss of paradise. 

“Until I had that revelation I bewailed death and my sins; but, since I have had that revelation, I am so full of gladness that I can weep no more; and therefore do I sing, yea, and will sing unto God, who hath given me the blessing of His grace and hath made me sure of the blessings of the glory of paradise. As touching our departure hence, I consent thereunto and it pleaseth me; but do ye find means to carry me, because, by reason of mine infirmity, I cannot walk.” 

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9 October, Little Flowers XCVI: taking charge.

Francis trusted his brethren to ‘take charge of the government of the Order’; this was also an expression of his trust in God to care for his family. What would he have said to the basilicas and monasteries of today’s Assisi ? But it feels more of a pilgrimage place than a tourist destination. Good things happen here, good things happen around the world because of what Assisi stands for, because of the international Franciscan community.

Saint Francis, seeing that, by reason of the stigmata of Christ, his bodily strength grew gradually less and that he was not able any more to take charge of the government of the Order, hastened forward the General Chapter of the Order; and, when it was assembled, he humbly excused himself to the friars for the weakness which prevented him from attending any more to the care of the Order, as touching the duties of General; albeit he renounced not that office of General because he was not able to do so, inasmuch as he had been made General by the Pope; and therefore he could neither resign his office nor appoint a successor without the express leave of the Pope. 

Nevertheless he appointed as his Vicar Friar Peter Cattani, and commended the Order unto him and unto the Ministers of the Provinces with all possible affection. And, when he had thus done, Saint Francis, being comforted in spirit, lifted up his eyes and hands to heaven and spake thus: “To Thee, my Lord God, to Thee I commend this Thy family, which unto this hour Thou hast committed unto me; and now, by reason of my infirmities, which Thou my most sweet Lord knowest, I am no longer able to take charge thereof. Also do I commend it to the Ministers of the Provinces; and if, through their negligence or through their bad example or through their too harsh correction, any friar shall perish, may they be held to give account thereof to Thee on the Day of Judgement.” And in these words, as it pleased God, all the friars of the Chapter understood that he spake of the most holy Stigmata, to wit in that which he said excusing himself by reason of his infirmity: and for devotion none of them was able to refrain from weeping. 

And from thenceforward he left all the care and government of the Order in the hands of his Vicar and of the Ministers of the Provinces; and he was wont to say: “Now that, by reason of my infirmities, I have given up the charge of the Order, I have no other duty than to pray God for our Religion and to set a good ensample to the friars. And of a truth, I know well that, if my infirmity should leave me, the greatest help which I could render to the Religion would be to pray continually to God for it, that He would defend and govern and preserve it.” 

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4 October: A Young Fool or Rascal.

San Damiano in the rain: we see many repairs have been made to this wall over the years.

It’s too easy to sugar coat any of the saints to make the medicine they offer us more palatable. Stories we’ve read in the Little Flowers tempt us to do the same to Saint Francis. Here’s a corrective from GKC. Happy Feast Day to all Franciscans!

I ask the reader to remember and realise what the story really looked like, when thus seen from the outside. Given a critic of rather coarse common sense, with no feeling about the incident except annoyance, and how would the story seem to stand?

A young fool or rascal is caught robbing his father and selling goods which he ought to guard; and the only explanation he will offer is that a loud voice from nowhere spoke in his ear and told him to mend the cracks and holes in a particular wall. He then declared himself naturally independent of all powers corresponding to the police or magistrates, and takes refuge with an amiable bishop who is forced to remonstrate with him and tell him he is wrong. He then proceeds to take off his clothes in public and practically throw them at his father; announcing at the same time that his father is not his father at all. He then runs about the town asking everybody he meets to give him fragments of buildings or building materials, apparently with reference to his old monomania about mending the wall.

It may be an excellent thing that cracks should be filled up, but preferably not by somebody who is himself cracked; and architectural restoration like other things is not best performed by builders who, as we should say, have a tile loose. Finally the wretched youth relapses into rags and squalor and practically crawls away into the gutter. That is the spectacle that Francis must have presented to a very large number of his neighbours and friends. How he lived at all must have seemed to them dubious; but presumably he already begged for bread as he had begged for building materials.

From “Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis, by G. K. Chesterton.

We return to the Little Flowers tomorrow.

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4 October: The Lady Poverty

I met her on the Umbrian hills,
Her hair unbound, her feet unshod:
As one whom secret glory fills
She walked, alone with God.

I met her in the city street:
Oh, changed was all her aspect then!
With heavy eyes and weary feet
She walked alone, with men.

Evelyn Underhill

Lest we get too sentimental about St Francis. WT.


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17 January, Church Unity week: Rebuild my Church

 

st damiano wall repaired

On the train towards Assisi, a Canadian was singing the praises of the Saskatoon winters, ’40° below, Fahrenheit or Celsius’, then announced to whoever was not listening, ‘In North America we would knock these buildings down and build something bigger; but here they repair and restore them.’

This particular wall is a stiff walk up from the railway station, at San Damiano in Assisi, the place where Saint Francis heard the call from the Crucified to ‘Rebuild my Church, which is falling down.’ That is a story that the Franciscans are living to this day; it was not just the ruinous chapel of San Damiano that needed rebuilding, but the whole of God’s Church, a project that should involve every group of people who claim to be Christian.

Pope Francis is calling us to rebuild the Church for today and tomorrow. What might that look like? A brand new building or a much-loved one, patched, repaired and altered to house a changing mission, and stones which the builders may have rejected in the past?

This wall is hundreds of years old; how many times has it been altered – and drastically altered – to fulfil changing needs or to strengthen it after earthquakes or erosion? For sure the big arch replaced he smaller one, to create a cart shed maybe, but in its turn it was no longer needed, so was filled in with irregular stone, its crest replaced by a horizontal course to support a new floor.

Successive architects could not have foreseen how their wall would become less fit for purpose, but they confidently built what was needed in their own life time. And that too would be rebuilt, centuries later.

Even today repairs and alterations continue around the monastery to make pilgrims welcome: electricity, running water, more even floors and steps, but the core of the church is as it was. The notice on the wall says that this is a Unesco World Heritage Site, not, though, a museum.

Our Faith is more precious than any Unesco heritage site. We will not preserve it as a treasure hidden in a field (or around San Damiano, an olive grove) but by bringing into the open, and using, treasures old and new.

Let us pray during Christian Unity Week, which begins tomorrow, for courage in our daily mission to rebuild Christ’s church together.

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17 December: Looking up.

francis stargazing

One of our friends urged me to share my experience of Assisi in September. Well, it will filter through as the weeks go by. This reflection is based on an extraordinary statue of Francis at the Hermitages where he and his and companions lived in caves in the rock face – caves that have since been enhanced, over the years, with walls and windows and more or less even stairways. But it was very much the outdoor life when Francis came here.

The hermitage was difficult to get to, a stiff uphill walk on an uneven track even to this day. The wooded hillside around it is a sanctuary, and certainly respected as a quiet place when we were there. And here we found Francis, lying on the rocky ground, looking skywards. I forget whether he was watching stars or clouds.

Not long ago I had a few hours with my new grandson, who was just getting used to having eyes; he was fascinated by the passing clouds, and somehow conveyed to me that he wanted to go outside and watch them without the intermediary of a window. So we went outside and his eyes opened ever wider.

Let’s pray for the grace to become as a little child and open our eyes to God’s beauty, even where humans have tried to tame it to suit our ideas rather than his. And let’s look out every day for the coming week: there will be a bright new shining star of some sort that will shine a light on our pilgrimage towards the Manger:

Laudato Si!

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3 December: Whose sacrifice? Francis and his Father.

525px-Giotto_-_Legend_of_St_Francis_-_-05-_-_Renunciation_of_Wordly_Goods

Here, as promised, is Francis as a young man giving back to his father the fine clothes he had earned or been given in the course of the family business. During Mass at the Upper Basilica in Assisi, we found ourselves seated next to this Giotto fresco. A rather worried looking bishop is covering Francis’s nakedness with a towel. I can’t help but wonder what is going through the episcopal mind: this is not an everyday scene. Was he trying to keep the peace between father and son?

Many families have moments of truth, if less dramatic. We don’t expect our children to turn their backs so determinedly on all that we parents have worked for, worked hard for in the case of the prosperous merchant: his long days of travelling, hours of hard bargaining and of learning to appreciate the skill of the weavers and embroiderers who supplied him. Perhaps the bishop’s own vestments were cut from Mr Bernadone’s cloth, but he saw that it was good, and so was the comfortable family life it brought.

Francis is not turning his back on his father and on riches, but in a gesture of prayer, he offers them to his Creator. He is learning how to be a creature, rather than a self-made man.

So who is called to sacrifice here? Francis has made his decision and by this gesture he makes it public. He will live openly dependent on God, utterly crazy in the eyes of his father who has constructed a secure home with every mod con, including servants. Peter Bernadone can see poverty any time he cares to look for it and he shuns it, the cold, filth, hunger poor people endured then.

Letting his son go must have been a wrenching, tremendous sacrifice; so I wonder who needed the bishop most, once this scene was over, the son or the father?

Abraham was called, challenged, to sacrifice his son, only for Isaac to be restored and redeemed, sent back to become a patriarch, an ancestor of God’s people. Francis was to live largely under the family’s eye, dying at the bottom of the hill on which Assisi is built, a daily challenge to his former circle.

Let us pray for the wisdom  to handle moments of truth without antagonising any of the parties involved, and for the grace to be close to our families in times of trial and times of joy.

WT

Image from Wikipedia

 

 

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16 February. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVIII: Brother Ruffino 5, the beautiful sermon.

chris-preaching

The folk of Assisi beholding Saint Francis in the self-same guise as Brother Ruffino, made mock of him, deeming that he and Brother Ruffino had grown mad through overmuch penance.

Saint Francis entered into the church where Brother Ruffino was preaching these words “Dearly beloved, flee from the world and put away sin; render to others their due, if ye would escape from hell; follow the commandments of God, in loving God and your neighbour, if ye would go to heaven; do penance, if ye would possess the kingdom of heaven.”

Then Saint Francis went up into the pulpit, and began to preach so marvellously of the contempt of the world, of holy penitence, of voluntary poverty, and of the desire of the kingdom of heaven, and of the nakedness and shame of the passion of our Lord Jesu Christ, that all they that heard the preaching, men and women in great multitude, began to weep most bitterly with devout and contrite hearts; and not there alone, but in all Assisi was there that day such weeping for the passion of Christ, that never had there been the like.

And the people being thuswise edified and comforted by this act of Saint Francis and Brother Ruffino, Saint Francis re-clad Brother Ruffino and himself and so re-clad, they returned to the House of Portiuncula, praising and glorifying God, that had given them grace to overcome themselves, by the contempt of themselves, and to edify the little sheep of Christ by good example, and to show how greatly the world is to be despised. And on that day so much did the devotion of the people towards them increase, that he deemed himself blessed whoso could touch the hem of their garment.

Let’s pray that Brother Chris’s work in Zimbabwe is prospering. Lord hear us.

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15 February. Little Flowers XLVII: Brother Ruffino 4, the beautiful sermon.

 

chris-preaching

Of the beautiful sermon preached in Assisi by Saint Francis and Brother Ruffino

Brother Ruffino, through continual contemplation, was so absorbed in God, that he became as it were insensible and dumb, spake but seldom, and therewithal had neither the gift of preaching, nor boldness nor eloquence therein; nevertheless Saint Francis on a time bade him go to Assisi and preach to the people whatsoever God might inspire him withal. Wherefore Brother Ruffino answered: ‘Reverend father, I pray thee pardon me and send me not; for, as thou knowest, I have not the gift of preaching, but am simple and ignorant.’

Then quoth Saint Francis: “Seeing that thou hast not obeyed incontinent, I command thee by holy obedience that thou get thee to Assisi naked as thou wast born, save in thy breeches only, and enter into a church and preach unto the people.” At this command, the said Brother Ruffino stripped himself and went to Assisi and entered into a church, and having done reverence to the altar went up into the pulpit and began to preach; for the which cause the children and the men began to laugh, and said: “Now look you how these fellows do so much penance that they become fools and are beside themselves.”

Meantime, Saint Francis, bethinking him of the ready obedience of Brother Ruffino, the which was one of the most noble gentlemen of Assisi, and of the hard commandment he had laid upon him, began to chide himself, saying : Whence comes to thee such boldness, thou son of Peter Bernardoni, vile wretch, to command Brother Ruffino, that is one of the most noble gentlemen of Assisi, to go and preach to the people like a madman? By God, thou shalt have proof in thine own self of what thou biddest others do.” And straightway in fervour of spirit he stripped himself in like fashion, and set out for Assisi, and took with him Brother Leo to carry his habit and that of Brother Ruffino.

Brother Chris sent us this image of himself preaching, modestly.

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12 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVI: The Temptations of Brother Ruffino, 3.

Croix Rousse large

Saint Francis promised Brother Ruffino that, “this temptation will bring to thee great profit and consolation, and very shortly shalt thou prove it”. So what happened after Ruffino was utterly impolite to the devil?

The devil being exceeding wroth, gat him away incontinent with so furious a tempest and shaking of the rocks of Mount Subassio, which was hard by, that the loud noise of the rocks that fell down lasted a great while ; and so furiously did they strike the one against the other as they rolled down, that the valley was lit up with horrible flashes of fire: and at the terrible din that they made, Saint Francis and his companions came out of the House, in great amazement, for to see what strange thing had befallen; and still to this day is seen that exceeding great ruin of rocks.

Then Brother Ruffino knew of a surety that it had been the devil that had deceived him. And going back to Saint Francis, he threw himself again upon the ground, and confessed his fault; and Saint Francis comforted him with sweet words, and sent him back full of consolation to his cell, wherein as he was most devoutly praying, there appeared to him Christ, the blessed One, and rekindled all his soul with love divine and said: “Thou hast done well, my son, to believe in Saint Francis, for he that made thee His sad was the devil: but I am Christ thy Master; and to make thee sure thereof, I give thee this sign: Whilst thou dost live, thou shalt no more feel sadness nor melancholy.”

And this said, Christ departed, leaving him in such gladness and sweetness of spirit and uplifting of the mind, that day and night he was absorbed and rapt in God. And from that time forth he was
so strengthened in grace and in certainty of his salvation, that he became altogether changed into another man; and would have continued day and night in prayer and in contemplation of the things of God, if the others had suffered him. Wherefore Saint Francis said of him that Brother Ruffino was in this life canonised by Christ, and that, save in his presence, he would not doubt to call him Saint Ruffino, albeit he was still alive on earth.

Icon by CW

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