I recently found a series of photos on Twitter that are entitled “Foto di Assisi.” I began viewing these photos of a city and land that I had come to love very much during my student days in Rome. Often, if I had a couple of days off, I would take the train to Assisi just to spend time walking and praying in this sacred and beautiful city where one truly senses the presence of St. Francis and St. Claire.
During one of my trips to Assisi I purchased a copy of a book entitled “The Little Flowers of St. Francis,” or in Italian, “I Fioretti di San Francesco.” It is a collection of stories and reflections of the early days of the “Little Brothers,” or “Friars Minor”! However one might view these accounts of the life of the early followers of St. Francis, they are above all narrations and accounts of Faith and trust in God reflected in the life of St. Francis and his early followers.
One day I walked (I was only 30 at the time) from Assisi, down to St. Mary of the Angels, over to a place called “Rivotorto,” and then back up to Assisi, to the Basilica of St. Francis, to the Cathedral of Assisi, and then all the way up to the Fort (“Rocca”) to hear the Angelus bells ring as the sun set over the Umbrian Valley!
In reading those stories, I could hear St. Francis speaking directly to the first Friars, calling them “Brothers all” or “Fratelli Tutti,” which is the title of the latest encyclical letter of Pope Francis, which is an encouragement to us in this time of fractures and divisions in our society and culture. The Holy Father opens his latest encyclical with these words, which can give us something to reflect on in the last days of Ordinary Time, and as the new liturgical year comes upon us with the beauty and mystery of Advent.
“FRATELLI TUTTI.” With these words, Saint Francis of Assisi addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel. Of the counsels Francis offered, I would like to select the one in which he calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother ‘as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him. In his simple and direct way, Saint Francis expressed the essence of fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.” (No. 1)
As the Bishops’ support group I am in was reflecting on these words, we also had with us some reflections of Focolare foundress Chiara Lubich from the November 1981 “Word of Life.” These were not too different from the words of Pope Francis. A short excerpt is:
“..With these words, Jesus does not want to lead people who are unhappy towards an attitude of simple resignation by promising them a reward in the future. He is thinking about the present. In fact, his Kingdom is already here, even if not definitively so. It is present in Jesus who has overcome death by rising again after dying in great affliction. It is also present in us, in our hearts as Christians: God is in us. The Trinity dwells within us. And so we can experience the happiness that Jesus promised…Sufferings remain, but there is new energy to face the trials of life to help others who are struggling in some way: there is new strength to overcome sufferings and to see and welcome them as a means of redemption as Jesus did.”
I hope that the Advent season will be days of blessing, comfort and hope that the Lord offers us.
Next week – more on Advent.
God bless you always and your loved ones in these special days.