The mural will serve as a lasting memory. It lies just off from of the nave of the sanctuary of the St. Francis of Assisi Church. Francis’ absolute surrender and devotion to Christ, his prophetic King, cannot be avoided. His arms outstretched. His head bowed low. Kneeling before his crucified Lord.
Recently Kristi and I retreated to the Chiara Center in Springfield, IL. This center is a Franciscan Place of Spirituality. As noted on their website, it is “grounded in the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi…and offers a peaceful, inspirational setting for individuals, couples, and groups who seek Christ’s healing presence.” We traveled to this place of quiet and healing to refresh our spirits before our return to Congo. We enjoyed long periods of silence, centering prayer, meditation walks, reading and studying Scripture and Christian books, walking the Stations of the Cross, journaling, thinking about our return to Congo, and learning more about St. Francis and St. Clare. We also learned about the devotion of the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, an order of nuns who have served the sick and infirm in the Midwest for more than 135 years.
The greatest gift I received during this personal retreat was a greater appreciation for St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi. Both coming from affluent and noble homes in a decadent culture of 13th century Italy, they gave up all for the cause of Christ. Francis even left the clothing off his own back in the hands of his merchant father as he pronounced his sole devotion to Christ before the Bishop of Assisi. He took on the crude and hard life of poverty. He found that the less he had, the freer he was to serve Jesus Christ. In his devotion, Francis would spend days weeping over the passion of Christ. He was gripped by the suffering of Christ and the sufferings of the poor. He sought to identify completely with the poor, the lame, and the outcast. He and a committed band itinerated throughout the land preaching this good news of Christ. He was fearless. People began flocking to him and his message; his radical life transformed the church. Francis had a profound love for all of creation. He referred to the sun as “Brother Sun,” and the moon as “Sister Moon.” All of creation had a wondrous ring to his ears and a familial tie to his heart.
Clare was no less resolute in her devotion. She would spend days on end simply worshipping her Creator and praying to Him. Food and clothing and the things of this world were of no consequence. Her commitment to a life of poverty and simplicity were unparalleled. When Francis was near death, it was near Clare he chose to be. Clare, he knew, would tend to his soul.
Upon our departure from the Chiara Center, Father Andre accosted us in his simple, brown raiment. His frock reminded me of something Francis might have worn. Father Andre explained to us that he serves as the chaplain to the Sisters. He gathered the two of us in his large arms and prayed a blessing of safe voyage upon our return to Congo. Thank you Lord for the Chiara Center, this place of Franciscan Spirituality. Thank you also that the spirit and devotion of St. Francis and St. Clare lives on through your people…