Tag Archives: Assisi

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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11 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLV: The Temptations of Brother Ruffino, 2.

flowers.francis.illustration

Yesterday we read how Francis was made aware of Ruffino’s belief that he was damned, and his subsequent misery. We take up the story when Brother Masseo has called Ruffino to visit Francis. Francis emulates the father of the prodigal son and then gives some very earthy advice!

Saint Francis seeing Brother Ruffino coming from afar off, began to cry out: “O thou miserable Brother Ruffino, in whom hast thou believed?” And when Brother Ruffino was come up to him, Saint Francis recounted to him in order all the temptation that he had had of the devil within and without, and showed him clearly that what had appeared to him was the devil and not Christ, and that he ought in no wise to consent unto his promptings. But when the devil should say to thee again: “Thou art damned! do thou answer : Open thy mouth, for I fain would void on thee! and this shall be to thee the sign that he is the devil and not Christ; for as soon as thou shalt give him this answer, he will flee away incontinent.

Moreover by this token shouldst thou have known that he was the devil and not Christ, in that he hardened thy heart to all goodness, the which thing is his own proper office; but Christ, the blessed One, never hardeneth the heart of the faithful, nay, rather he softeneth it, as he saith by the mouth of the prophet: I will take away the stony heart and I will give you a heart of flesh”. (Ezekiel 36:26) Then Brother Ruffino, seeing that Saint Francis told him in order all the manner of his temptation, touched to the heart by his words, began to weep bitterly, and fell down before Saint Francis and humbly confessed his fault in having kept his temptation hidden. And thus he abode altogether consoled and comforted by the admonishments of the holy father, and wholly changed for the better.

Then at the last Saint Francis said unto him: “Go, my little son, and shrive1 thee, and relax not the zeal of thy wonted prayers: and know of a surety that this temptation will bring to thee great profit and consolation, and very shortly shalt thou prove it.” So Brother Ruffino returned to his cell in the wood, and continuing in prayer with many tears, behold the enemy came to him in the form 0f Christ, as to outward semblance, and said to him: “O Brother Ruffino, have I not told thee that thou shouldest not believe the son of Peter Bernardoni, nor shouldest weary thyself in tears and prayers, seeing that thou art damned? What doth it profit thee to afflict thyself while yet alive, and then when thou shalt die thou wilt be damned?” And straightway Brother Ruffino made answer to the devil: “Open thy mouth, for I fain would void on thee.”

1Confess your sins to a priest
End Paper of The Little Flowers of Saint Francis.

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6 June: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXIV: How Saint Clare ate with Saint Francis, 1. (Shared Table XVIII)

pilgrimsatramsgate (640x480)

We continue the theme of shared table in the next three posts from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis.

How Saint Clare ate with Saint Francis and the brothers, his companions, in St Mary of the Angels

WHENAS Saint Francis was at Assisi, oftentimes he visited Saint Clare and gave her holy admonishments. And she having exceeding great desire to once break bread with him, oft-times besought him thereto, but he was never willing to grant her this consolation ; wherefore his companions, beholding the desire of Saint Clare, said unto Saint Francis: “Father, it
doth appear to us that this severity accordeth n0t with heavenly charity : since thou givest not ear unt0 Sister Clare, a virgin so saintly, so beloved of God, in so slight a matter as breaking bread with thee, and above all bearing in mind that she through thy preaching abandoned the riches and pomps of the world. And of a truth, had she asked of thee a greater boon than this, thou oughtest so to do unto thy spiritual plant.”

Then replied Saint Francis: “Doth it seem good to you that I should grant her prayer?” Rejoined his companions: “Yea, father, fitting is it that thou grant her this boon and consolation.” Then spake Saint Francis : “Since it seems good to you, it seems so likewise unto me. But that she may be the more consoled, I will that this breaking of bread take place in Saint Mary of the Angels; for she has been so long shut up in St Damian that it will rejoice her to see again the house of Saint Mary, where her hair was shorn away and she became the bride of Jesu Christ; and there let us eat together in the name of God.”

I like the way Francis listened to his brothers and considering their advice, followed it. In Francis and Clare’s time, the sisters were all enclosed in their convents, unlike the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Littlehampton in this photo. WT.

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4 October: Pope Francis in Assisi

Pope Francis in Assisi - OSS_ROM

 On the Feast of Saint Francis we invite you to share Pope Francis’s words of peace at Assisi last year.

Appeal for Peace of His Holiness Pope Francis

Piazza of Saint Francis, Assisi

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Men and women of various religions, we gather as pilgrims in the city of Saint Francis.  Thirty years ago in 1986, religious representatives from all over the world met here at the invitation of Pope John Paul II.  It was the first such solemn gathering that brought so many together, in order to affirm the indissoluble bond between the great good of peace and an authentic religious attitude.  From that historic event, a long pilgrimage was begun which has touched many cities of the world, involving many believers in dialogue and in praying for peace.  It has brought people together without denying their differences, giving life to real interreligious friendships and contributing to the resolution of more than a few conflicts.  This is the spirit that animates us: to bring about encounters through dialogue, and to oppose every form of violence and abuse of religion which seeks to justify war and terrorism.   And yet, in the years that have followed, numerous populations have nonetheless been painfully wounded by war.  People do not always understand that war harms the world, leaving in its wake a legacy of sorrows and hate.  In war, everyone loses, including the victors.

We have prayed to God, asking him to grant peace to the world.  We recognize the need to pray constantly for peace, because prayer protects the world and enlightens it.  God’s name is peace.  The one who calls upon God’s name to justify terrorism, violence and war does not follow God’s path.  War in the name of religion becomes a war against religion itself.  With firm resolve, therefore, let us reiterate that violence and terrorism are opposed to an authentic religious spirit.

We have heard the voice of the poor, of children and the younger generations, of women and so many brothers and sisters who are suffering due to war.  With them let us say with conviction: No to war!  May the anguished cry of the many innocents not go unheeded.  Let us urge leaders of nations to defuse the causes of war: the lust for power and money, the greed of arms’ dealers, personal interests and vendettas for past wrongs.  We need a greater commitment to eradicating the underlying causes of conflicts: poverty, injustice and inequality, the exploitation of and contempt for human life.

May a new season finally begin, in which the globalized world can become a family of peoples.  May we carry out our responsibility of building an authentic peace, attentive to the real needs of individuals and peoples, capable of preventing conflicts through a cooperation that triumphs over hate and overcomes barriers through encounter and dialogue.  Nothing is lost when we effectively enter into dialogue.  Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer.  Everyone can be an artisan of peace.  Through this gathering in Assisi, we resolutely renew our commitment to be such artisans, by the help of God, together will all men and women of good will.

 

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3 October: The Transitus of Saint Francis

On the Eve of Saint Francis’ Day, his daughters and sons gather to honour his transitus – his passing from this world to Eternity with the God he loved. There is no fixed rite for this celebration, but this is the one I have joined in at the Franciscan International Study Centre in recent years. It was adapted by Sister Clare, now the Superior General of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Littlehampton. She has arranged it for different speakers, but feel free to adapt it to suit your group, or just to read it alone.

MMB.

Thank you Clare!

The service took place in the evening, in a darkened chapel. A Franciscan habit was spread on the floor before the altar, surrounded by candles. One candle would suffice to read this by at home.

candle

Transitus of St. Francis

(n1, n2, CANTOR, LEADER)

1.      [Narrator 1] At this time Francis was staying in the palace of the Bishop of Assisi, and he therefore asked the brothers to take him as quickly as possible to the place of St. Mary of the Portiuncula. For he wished to give back his soul to God in that place where, as has been said, he first knew the way of truth perfectly.

2.      [N 2] Then blessed Francis, despite the overpowering burden of his sickness, praised the Lord in a great joyful outburst of body and soul, saying to his companion: “Since I must soon die, have Brother Angel and Brother Leo come and praise our Sister Death for me.” Both arrived and, forcing back their tears, sang the “Canticle of Brother Sun” and of the other creatures, which the saint had composed during his sickness for the glory of God and for the consolation of his soul and of that of the others.

Antiphon: 

Cantor: Alleluia
Francis, poor and humble, enters heaven rich and is welcomed with celestial hymns.
Alleluia

1Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,

Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honour, and all blessing,

2To You alone, Most High, do they belong,

and no human is worthy to mention Your name.

3Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,

especially Sir Brother Sun,

Who is the day and through whom You give us light.

4And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;

and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

5Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,

in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

6Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,

and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,

through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.

7Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,

who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

8Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire.

through whom You light the night,

and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

9Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,

who sustains and governs us,

and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

10Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,

and bear infirmity and tribulation.

11Blessed are those who endure in peace

for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

12Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,

from whom no one living can escape.

13Woe to those who die in mortal sin.

Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,

for the second death shall do them no harm.

14Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks

and serve Him with great humility.1

All:

Alleluia
Francis, poor and humble, enters heaven rich and is welcomed with celestial hymns.
Alleluia

3.      [N 1] While therefore the brothers were weeping very bitterly and grieving inconsolably, the holy father commanded that bread be brought to him. He blessed and broke it and gave a small piece of it to each one to eat. Commanding also that a book of the Gospels be brought, he asked that the Gospel according to St. John be read to him from the place that begins: “Before the feast of the Passover.” He was recalling that most holy supper which the Lord celebrated as his last supper with his disciples. He did all of this in reverent memory of that supper, showing thereby the deep love he had for his brothers. John 13:1-17 

4.      [N 2] Then Francis spent the few days that remained before his death in praise, teaching his companions whom he loved so much to praise Christ with him. He himself, in as far as he was able broke forth in this psalm, “I cried to the Lord with my voice: with my voice I made supplication to the Lord.” He also invited all creatures to praise God. He exhorted death itself, terrible and hateful to all, to give praise, and going joyfully to meet it, he invited it to make its lodging with him. 

5.      [N 1] Francis then said to the brothers: “When you see that I am brought to my last moments, place me naked upon the ground just as you saw me the day before yesterday; and let me lie there after I am dead for the length of time it takes one to walk a mile unhurriedly.” The hour therefore came, and all the mysteries of Christ being fulfilled in him, he winged his way happily to God.

LEADER: Hail, holy father, light of your country, model of your friars,  mirror of virtue, path of rectitude, rule of conduct. From this exile of the flesh, lead us to the realms above.

ALL: Poor and humble Francis enters Heaven laden with riches.

LEADER: We pray to God our Father in the words Jesus himself taught us … Our Father who art in Heaven…

Let us pray. O God, Who this day gave to the soul of our holy father Francis the reward of everlasting bliss, be pleased to grant that we who, with loving hearts celebrate the memory of his departure, may deserve to obtain the same happiness for our reward. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

End of Transitus. [Quiet music: while all depart]

1Francis, The Canticle of the Creatures, FA:ED, vol, 1, pp. 113-4.

FMSL

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