Who is the Real St. Francis?

External view of San Damiano complex. Photo: Gunnar Bach Pedersen/Public Domain

If you ask people what they know about St. Francis, many people would picture a simple friar holding a little bird in his hands, but Fr. Daren Zehnle said that a better symbol for Franciscan spirituality is St. Francis holding a cross. St. Francis was the preacher of Christ’s cross. He chose the design of his habit because it was shaped like a cross. He would pray with his arms outstretched and his soul would melt at seeing Jesus on the cross. Jesus called St. Francis to embrace the cross as none had done before.

St. Francis prayed to know the suffering of Christ in his body and soul. The stigmata showed the intimacy St. Francis had with Christ. Fr. Zehnle encouraged all the pilgrims to ask St. Francis to teach them how to remain before the cross and allow Christ to gaze upon them. He said: Hold nothing back so that Christ, who gives of himself totally may receive you totally.

This was the perfect reflection for our visit to San Damiano that afternoon. One of the Assisi sisters remarked that all these places in Assisi are special, but this place is really special.

The Church of San Damiano was the place where St. Francis heard the call from Jesus on the Cross, to rebuild the Church. I commented to one of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist about how crazy it would be if Jesus on the crucifix just started talking to you. Her response was unexpected. She asked: Do you believe Jesus talks to you? Perhaps, it is not in the same way, but Jesus speaks to us every day. We just need to listen.

St. Francis often went to a secluded cave to pray. It is now called the Eremo delle Carceri di San Francesco, or hermitage of the cell. This is a place where they would go to pray and try to discern God’s call in their lives. I started to think about the times God speaks to us, and wondered, do I always take the time to hear God’s voice?

God is always speaking, it is up to us to make the time to hear his voice.

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