The little poor man from Assisi, known as Francis, is one of the most biographed humans in history. Countless writers, preachers, and poets have attempted to put into words the life of the beggar who has captivated the imagination of men and women with his radical observance to the Gospel since his feet hiked the Italian countryside (1182 - 1226 A.D.). He’s certainly more than a charming birdbath icon! I’m going to underwhelm you in my feeble attempt to join the biographical club with this simple, sloppily constructed blog post, which may or may not have been constructed at a Milwaukee coffee shop…
You see, I’m one of those poor sinners who has been captivated by the heart of St. Francis. I don’t know why a short, passionate, medieval Italian makes my heart turn with an ardent desire to follow Jesus, but it does. I’ve read many of the biographies, personal writings of St. Francis (though they are few), and poems and prayers. As wonderful as many of these writings are, to me, nothing is more “biographical” of Francis than Assisi. I’ve been blessed to visit Assisi a number of times on pilgrimage throughout my life. Each time, I’ve been taken aback by the city’s palpable “pace e bene”, or peace and goodness; you can literally breathe it in the air!
Disclaimer: the peace and goodness I’m talking about is the Lord’s peace and goodness, not some hippie, butterfly, paper mashe “peace and goodness”. As you walk through this small city you witness delight in the eyes of the natives and its countless pilgrims. The cobble stone streets and medieval buildings raise one’s spirt to the beauty of God. The church bells, religious imagery, and dare I say, gelato, pull one’s imagination into the Kingdom Christ proclaimed is here, and yet to come. There is a sense where you could consider the whole city a cathedral of peace and goodness. It points you UPward to the goodness of God and our heavenly home. In the same breath, it calls us INward to the presence of God within us and to the deepest longings of our interior. It is there where the harmony, unity, and joy of the Lord’s peace and goodness is found: UP and IN. This is what Francis’ life speaks! Every thought, word, or action is to be directed UP to our benevolent God and our final resting place, and IN to the interior transformation God wants for each of us.
This Monday morning, I woke to the news of yet another mass shooting in our country. Like many, I ask, “What can we do in the face of such tremendous tragedy?” and “When is this going to stop?” and “Lord, where is the peace that you promised us?” My heart breaks for the community of Las Vegas, all those who lost their lives, and those affected. Today, as I continue to wrestle with this heartbreak, I’m reminded of St. Francis, and even his little city of peace and goodness: Assisi. My only sense in this is the call again to simply be UP and IN; to reach out in the ways we are able, offer heartfelt prayers to a shattered community, and continue in hope for better days yet to come.
The Lord has promised us His peace. Again, the Lord has promised us His peace. Whether the shooting in Las Vegas, another tragedy, or aching distress in our own personal lives, we remain journeying pilgrims in a foreign land, and we must rely on His grace, His mercy, and His peace and goodness to make sense out of the nonsensical.
Below is a prayer St. Francis wrote before the crucifix, which has always inspired me to look UP and IN. As a fellow pilgrim, I offer it as a possible consolation as we journey toward holiness, God’s will in our lives, and grieve for those who lost their lives in Las Vegas. It certainly has been, for me, a refuge of peace and goodness.
Most high, glorious God, cast Your light into the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, firm hope, perfect charity, and profound humility, with wisdom and perception, O Lord, so that I may do what is truly Your holy will. Amen