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Rebuilding

2015-03-17 11:32

Life was hard for St Francis. When God touched his heart, he had to make a few changes.  Conversion is never a simple matter. When the Figure on the crucifix at San Damiano told him to rebuild the Church, Francis took this literally. The little church was crumbling.  Finding stones was not, in itself, too difficult on a mountainside. That is why it was straightforward to walk into the marketplace and offer a blessing in return for a stone.

Yet there was more.

The marketplace in Assisi is in easy walking distance of San Damiano, but there is a steep slope.  Walking downhill is fairly simple.  Uphill is tiring.  Did Francis ask people to bring the stones to San Damiano, or were they dumped in the piazza, so that he was forced to make several trips each day?  How often was he tempted to give up the struggle, just through sheer tiredness?

San Damiano is not far from St Francis’ home.  He must have seen his friends and relatives on every street corner.  There was no place to hide.  What was it like to see the confusion and contempt in the eyes of some?  Not everybody admired him… least of all, his father, Pietro Bernadone. We hear nothing more of Pica, his mother, after Francis renounced his father’s wealth. Yet she had been the doting parent who took his side against her angry husband.  Did Francis ever think of the impact his chosen life made on Pica Bernadone?

In his love for Scripture, how did Francis react to the Commandment, “Honour thy father and thy mother”?  With an Italian son’s devotion to his mother, he must have known the pain he caused.  For all that he renounced his father, Francis knew that he had been the sun, moon and stars to the merchant, must have seen that the subsequent curses that were rained on him came from a wounded heart that could take no more pain and shame.  San Damiano is so close to the town of Assisi that there was no escape. Bernadone heard every word of the gossip and could not close his ears.  He, who had given Francis everything and more, saw the young man in a gown made of multicoloured strips of sackcloth, not even sewn together neatly.

Assisi is situated high in the forested hills of Umbria. Spring and autumn are glorious, but summer is lived in the full glare of the sun, with very little shade and the stifling heat penetrating every nook and cranny.  Winter is bitterly cold, the wind howling around the mountaintops.  Francis had only a habit made of sackcloth, a cloak and a pair of breeches.  In that biting cold, were there times when he wanted to give up, to go home and sit in front of a blazing fire with a goblet of fine wine and some warm food?

Lent is about conversion.  It is about keeping going even when everything else seems to call out for surrender and for something that the world, and we ourselves, see as “‘normal”.  Yet, conversion cannot happen without perseverance.  That is what made Francis a saint!

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