The Cross of San Damiano, Assisi
Rebuild My Church
This week, we are enjoying celebrating the life and mission of Saint Francis.
Those of us who have visited Assisi will know the holiness that the prayers of Francis, St Clare, and the band of their followers brought to the surrounding countryside and far beyond.
No doubt many know how his story began but I like telling it!
In 1181 a boy was born to a wealthy merchant family in Assisi. He was baptized Giovanni but became more popularly known by the name Francesco. It was always thought that he would eventually take over the family business as a prominent cloth merchant. Francis was, however, a spirited and rebellious youth. His wayward ways put him at loggerheads with his father, a relationship made all the more difficult when he was imprisoned for brawling with a neighbourhood gang.
This imprisonment changed him, though not to the liking of his father. He began to be concerned for the poor and especially for lepers. He threw away his clothes and renounced his father’s wealth. At the age of 20, he heard a different Father speaking to him. ‘Go make disciples of all nations‘, was what he heard.
Francis rushed away from home and came to the derelict church of St. Damiano on the edge of Assisi. There he knelt in prayer and looked at the faded crucifix still hanging over the altar. Saint Damiano had seen much better days and was all but derelict. Francis insists that, as he knelt, the voice of Christ came to him at that moment. The words he heard were: ‘Francis, rebuild my church, which you see is falling down.’ Eager to be given a specific task, Francis set about physically repairing the church. Other young people joined him and soon St. Damiano’s became a church again.
But, as is so often the case, God’s vision is wider than our understanding. We do what we think God wants and find that there is more to it. What God really wanted Francis to do was rebuild not just the church of St. Damiano, but THE Church. It was a time of spiritual decay and of disdain for God’s little ones in need — the poor, the lame, the leprous. Even the care of the Natural world was being neglected.
The story of St. Francis and his companions is well known and he is especially remembered on October 4th. His work among the poor; his care for creation; his love of the simple are legend. His devotion to Christ was total. These were the building blocks of a restoration of the Church. Francis through his simplicity of life and determination to serve God did exactly what God asked of him. He alongside his companions, rebuilt the Church spiritually and gave it new vision.
It wasn’t easy and certainly he did not go about fulfilling God’s vision through trite and glib statements. Rebuilding vision which holds one’s sight on God also includes bringing real hope. That is hard work and requires real dedication. There must be a genuine and delightful love of the vulnerable, the unloved and uncared for and the animal and natural kingdom. This involves compassion, care and an acceptance that everyone has an equal right to what God has provided for all to share.
That seems a long way from the World we know today, but the same was true for Francis. The pouring out of love on a loveless world demanded and goes on demanding, effort and total commitment to the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ. Nothing else will do
Francis and his mission did change the world he knew and has gone on changing it ever since.#
But that vision of the Gospel bringing real joy to the world needs to be constantly renewed.
Rebuild My Church! This call of God comes to Christians today. There is a wide vision to be embraced. God is calling us to reshape, refashion and renew His Church, particularly after the devastation of Covid.
We are being equipped, through prayer and conversation with God and each other, to be God’s dynamic people. We are being called to tell the story of His Love to all people whose lives we touch, including our friends, neighbours and family but also those we have yet to meet, whom God will put in our way. God is calling us to rebuild the vision of his love both in our own hearts and in the lives of those whom he calls us to serve. But, as with Francis, it starts with ourselves and it starts TODAY!
And that includes all in our world which in their own way, respect and revere God. Those who knowing love can bring it to others.
In this, it is no different than for St. Francis.
He used the Church as the platform for the true work of God
The real task is to Rebuild the World and we do that by having a wide vision.
Those of us who are proud the be Christians must always realize that God loves and saves the world. And, amongst others, he uses us to do it.
In giving thanks for Saint Francis and St Clare and the countless Franciscan followers over the centuries, we are being invited to share in this mighty and blessed work.
ST FRANCIS’ PRAYER before The CRUCIFIX at St.Damiano