The image above is a copy of the San Damiano cross. The original 12th century cross in now located in the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (The Basilica of Saint Clare). It is the very cross, in approximately 1206, that a young Francesco Bernardone, prayed earnestly before as his very life was at a monumental crossroads. The image of the Chrsitos or Christ is said to have so captivated the young Italian, as he knelt before the cross, the eyes of Christ penetrating into the very core of Francesco, that he actually heard the voice of God speak.
The young Francesco had come to a secluded poor hermitage that was off the beaten path. A poor simple priest maintained the dilapidated “sanctuary” that was literally falling in on itself. It was here, in this humble structure before this simple cross, that a young man sought the word of God. And it is here that the world would never be the same.
It is amazing imagining how the prayer of desperation from one young man could and would influence an entire world!
Francesco came from a very well to do family. He lived a lavish wanton life as did many young men of the time. Wine, women and song was the theme of the day—the great Troubadours of the day. Parties, lots of drinking, lots of mischief. Sounds as if I am describing the youth of today rather than the youth of the early 13th century.
There was, however, a troubling spirit within young Francesco. There was no “peace” in his life. The partying and “living large” was but empty–leaving a deep place in his very being that needed to be filled by much more than alcohol, parties, empty relationships, and money thrown at fun for the sake of fun.
Unbeknownst to young Francesco, his very core had been touched by God, and once that is so, there will be no denying God’s desire or plan—Francesco tried to ignore the inner urgings by placating this emptiness with more carousing, more mischief, more parties. He eventually found himself, alone, having walked away from his friends and his fast passed lifestyle, to a lonely, broken down structure that housed a peculiar little cross.
God told Francesco that “His house had fallen down and was in need of repair”. Overwhelmed with the words he heard he took the voice at the literal and began rebuilding the small church in which he had prayed. But as is the way with God, His words most often speak of a larger situation in need of repair. Francesco Bernardone renounced the life he had known and became simply, to us, “Francesco” or Francis to the english speakers—
I will not go into a in-depth biography of the life of St. Francis as there are so many wonderful books written about this simple, humble and oh so human of Saints. However I cannot let the day pass without noting the wonderful choice of Cardinal Bergogilo’s choice of names. Some my wonder why a Jesuit would choose the name of a Franciscan, but I think it speaks to the character of Jorge Bergoglio.
He is obviously publicly recognizing the state of God’s current house in the Catholic Church, as well as in Christendom as a whole. We caregivers have let things fall into a bit of disrepair…clergy as well as the faithful…the house needs rebuilding. From the ground up. We must look to care for all of our brothers and sisters–those who are hungry, hurting, lonely, imprisoned, in need….we must start there first…with our fellow man. Repairing house per house….I think Cardinal Bergoglio may have the right idea. Where as he could have chosen to be a Benedict XVII or a John Paul III, he opted to use a new name. A name never chosen in 265 previous popes…a name that denotes humility and simplicity as well as action and work.
There is much work to be done–may those of us in the Christian family (note I do not say merely the Catholic family but for all Christianity) take up our cross, along with Pope Francis, and go forward to the task of re-building our/ God’s house.