Florence 2022 Florence, Italy MSMU Travels

Pilgrimage to Assisi

Hello all! I hope everyone had a great Holy Week and Triduum. For Easter Vigil, I was able to take part in a beautiful and very solemn service at a church called Santi Apostoli (one of the oldest churches in Florence). As for Easter Sunday, I tried to go to the Duomo and got denied for both the 11am and 6pm masses… (Probably because I was late, both times…) and ended up going to another church called Piazza San Firenze. On top of my Easter celebrations, I went to see the Academia, Amalfi Coast (this is where Capri/Sorrento/Positano are located), and took a day trip to Assisi!

Although it is hard to pick which location related most to theological subjects (given the Academia was full of such things!), Assisi took the top spot in my mind. If you do not already know, Assisi is the place where St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology, lived and is now buried.

Already familiar with most of St. Francis’s story, it was quite another thing to actually visit where the major events of this great Saints’ life. To begin with, I visited where St. Francis was raised and held captive, as a result of becoming a Catholic. St. Francis was born in late 1181 or early 1182 to a wealthy Italian family. His father, Pietro di Bernadone dei Moriconi, had been very successful in the silk business. As was usual in those times, Pietro expected Francis to take over the family business or be a strong fighter.

Still, although Francis’s family had high hopes for their son, they were equally intent on lavishing their child with the greatest pleasures the world had available at that time. Thus, St. Francis from a young age was content to delight in the pleasures of this world: extravagant parties, rich friends, women, and colorful clothes, among other vices.

However, even with all these worldly pleasures, as St. Augustine writes, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.” This was first seen when Francis as a boy abandoned the silk stand his father instructed him to work to provide a beggar with everything he had in his pockets. Hearing this, his father was very angry. Even before fully knowing the teachings of Jesus Christ, St. Francis still showed hints of the man he would later become. The interaction with the beggar was not the first example of St. Francis slowly coming closer to God. In order to appease his father, St. Francis joined the military. However, he was captured and taken prisoner while on one of the expeditions. After a year, St. Francis was able to return to Assisi and, upon this arrival, the saint immediately went to re-enlist in the military. Providentially, however, God sent Francis a vision, in which he told Francis:

“Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy.”

https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/saint-francis-of-assisi

This vision would encourage St. Francis to embrace a lowly leper he found on the road. Although St. Francis had typically had a strong aversion to sicknesses, he felt called to be like Christ who “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7, ESV). As a result, St. Francis got off his horse and embraced this leper in a radical act of love.

After this vision, St. Francis began to rapidly lose interest in the things of this world and, instead, took up a great pilgrimage to Rome. Once in Rome, St. Francis would join the poor in begging and spent much time alone in order to understand more what God wanted him to do. Finally, after much seeking, St. Francis would hear God speak to him through a mere cross, much like God did with Moses through the burning bush. Specifically, Jesus told St. Francis, “Francis, Francis, go and repair My church which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” While St. Francis initially thought God was speaking of rebuilding the church where he had been praying for months, it was soon clear that he was called to a much bigger task.

As a result of knowing his call could cause much tension between him and his father, St. Francis hid away in a cave for a month. After returning home, St. Francis was beaten brutally and kept in a cage after his father learned of his conversion. Although St. Francis was fortunately freed by his mother, he still was called to court by his father, since he wanted to spend his whole inheritance on restoring churches. Upon hearing St. Francis’s case, the Bishop of Assisi told Francis he had to give his father the money he had requested. While St. Francis did this in obedience to the bishop, the great saint also renounced his earthly father and, according to certain accounts, even tore off his clothes. St. Francis would truly give up everything to follow Jesus, in whom he had found more joy and peace than ever before. I even remember hearing in a podcast (Explaining the Faith w/ Fr. Chris Alar) that St. Francis would go on and trade his former clothes with a beggar!

Overall, St. Francis transformed the church by creating a new religious order which was interested in following the gospel “sine glossa” (without exceptions). For instance, St. Francis looked to the example of the early believers in the Acts of the Apostles who “had all things in common; … [selling] their possessions and goods and… distributing] the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45, NRSV-Catholic Edition). As a result, St. Francis instructed the eleven brothers who were his companions to abide under the law of poverty. Moreover, like St. Paul, all the brothers would also follow a vow of chastity.

While this immensely short summary of St. Francis’ life does not include even half of what I would like to say about this incredible man, I hope it gave you all a taste of this saint’s heroic life. Personally, I greatly admire St. Francis as a hero in my own life and hope to one day imitate even a little bit of the great saint’s life.

Thank you for reading this week’s post. As stated earlier, I hope you had a great Triduum and enjoy the rest of the “Easter Octave.” Come back next Tuesday for more theological reflections!

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