Last weekend I spoke at all of our masses about beginning a process of pastoral planning here. The first step in that process is a parish survey which was mailed out last week to all members of the parish. If you have questions about the survey or did not receive one, please contact Tricia Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why are we beginning this process of planning? We want to hear from you, and we want to take a closer look at all aspects of our common life at St. Francis. What I’d like to do over the next few weeks in this column is take a closer look at our parish mission statement. Our mission statement tells us what we are called to do; ours begins with the words “Inspired by our patron Francis of Assisi…” What does it mean to be inspired by a poor man who lived in Umbria eight centuries ago? How might Francis of Assisi inspire us today?
Our parish is named after St. Francis and it’s a parish that is served by Franciscan friars and I like to think that we are all called to be Franciscan in our own life circumstances. Francis was first of all a man who was gradually drawn to listening closely for God’s call in his life. One of the most beautiful places in Assisi is the Church of San Damiano, where Francis, in the early days of his conversion (and conversion not as changing faiths, but as a slow turning of his heart toward God), used to go and pray in front of the crucifix.
“Most High, Glorious God,” he would pray, “enlighten the darkness of my heart…” It was an admission, on his part, of his own “darkness,” his own sense that he was searching for a way out of his own self-centeredness, and that it was not his own efforts or self-will that would do that, but God’s grace and light. And so we, like Francis, look to the cross, to Jesus looking back at us, for our own call and mission to be witnesses to the gospel in our own times.
For Francis of Assisi, the experience of coming to know Jesus led him out into the world. What did he find there? He met lepers and embraced them; he found much violence and fear and looked for ways to reconcile people; he looked out at the wonder of the created world and saw in all of it the beauty of God’s creation; he walked into the middle of a battle between Christians and Muslims and looked for ways to bring peace. In the darkness of his own times, he brought the light of the gospel. Our own times often seem dark – violence, fear, mistrust, division – and yet, as Franciscans, like Francis himself in that small church outside the walls of Assisi, we look to Jesus, who so many times in the gospels speaks the words “do not be afraid” and assures us he is always with us. That’s what draws us here week after week.
Blessings on your week!