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Living into a new way of being: spending time with St Francis

The Crucifix of San Damiano: Conversion and the story of St Francis

This is the first of three talks given for a St Francis Day retreat this year at the Church of the Resurrection, Mount Macedon.

One day sometime during the period 1205-1206 a young Italian man in his mid-twenties, tired physically and mentally, recovering from malaria and imprisonment, disillusioned with life, full of desire and longing, but confused and feeling wretched, sat before a large Romanesque rood crucifix in an abandoned church in the Umbrian region of Italy. He cried out:

‘Oh Lord, Most High, enlighten the darkness of my heart that I may carry out Your holy and true command.’

And, quite unexpectedly, he heard the response: ’Francis, go and repair my house, which as you see is falling completely into ruin.’

These words of St Francis have come down to us today known as the Prayer Before the Crucifix:

Most High glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart.

Give me right faith, sure hope and perfect charity.

Fill me with understanding and knowledge that I may fulfil your command."

When I began to write these three talks for today, I confess that I actually knew very little about St Francis. Here was a saint whose identity I’d grown up with, but I’d never properly considered or taken seriously. I had also assumed that our knowledge of him would be scarce and only via secondary sources.

I was wrong. Almost immediately after his death people began to write about St Francis; he was canonised just two years after his death. Francis himself was educated, he could read and write in his native dialect, and Latin. He wrote two rules of the Franciscan Order. In the weeks preceding his death in 1226, he dictated a Testament of his life to one of his closest companions. He wrote letters to the clergy, to Saint Anthony, to the Brothers in his Order. He also wrote prayers. And it’s three of these prayers that I wish to ponder upon today, and use as a lens into the story of his life.