Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Franciscan Novena: Day Four

As a young man, seeking to know and to do God’s will for him in his life, Francis of Assisi would often go to the abandoned church of San Damiano (Saint Damian) outside the city walls. One day the figure of Jesus on the Cross spoke directly to him: “Francis, rebuild my Church, which as you can see, is in ruins.” Initially, Francis took the injunction of Christ literally: he began to beg and “borrow” stones to rebuild San Damiano and a number of other small churches. In time, as he matured spiritually, he began to understand that by ‘church’ Jesus might have been referring to the institutional church of the medieval period as well as to the People of God and their needs. Francis was called—and in time responded to—a vision which far exceeded his own imaginative capacity.

This week which bears the name of Il Poverello (‘the little poor man”) of Assisi is celebrating two ‘churches’, each of which has both its physical aspect as well as its broader embodiment in terms of the people it serves.

On Saturday, September 27, William Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Congregation of the Faith and former archbishop of San Francisco, dedicated the ‘new’ Porziuncula chapel at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi. Over the past several years, artists and artisans from both Europe and the United States have been engaged in a labor of love to produce a nearly full-scale (78%) replica of the little chapel so beloved by Francis himself and celebrated as the cradle of the spiritual movement which bears his name. The project was spearheaded by San Franciscan Angela Alioto, whose passionate involvement insured the completion of the $4 million project. As part of the National Shrine’s Renaissance Project, the Porziuncula chapel is intented to create a visible Franciscan presence in the City of St. Francis—a center of hospitality and evangelization in the heart of the traditionally Italian North Beach neighborhood--- and in close proximity to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Less than a mile away from the Porziuncula, the St. Anthony Foundation is celebrating both a building (it’s newly completed multi-service center) and the people it serves in the Tenderloin neighborhood. Founded on October 3, 1950 by Franciscan Father Alfred Boeddeker, the St. Anthony Dining Room and Foundation has served more than 35 million (!) meals to the city’s poor and homeless population—without government funds.

For decades, thousands of volunteers from throughout the City and the Bay Area have come to SAF to assist in this effort. The new multi-service center will house a medical clinic, dining facilities, social services, and a ‘state of the art’ computer center for San Francisco’s poor. While not technically a ‘church’, the Foundation certainly functions as a ‘living building’ made of ‘living stones’ through its direct presence among the marginalized and abandoned.

Two " churches". Two celebrations. Two important visual reminders of Christ’s Presence and Love. Two ways of reaching out to the world in the spirit of the Gospel and through the inspiring example of St. Francis. The injunction of Jesus to ‘repair my church’ is no less compelling to us today. The invitation and challenge are equally personal and global. How can I (we) respond to the call of Jesus to ‘rebuild’ the Church in our own time and society? That’s remains the compelling nature of the call to Franciscan life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! I will most certainly be there for the opening of St. Anthony's new "green" building this Friday. It's a very exciting what's going on down on Golden Gate Avenue between Jones and Leavenworth. An amazing tribute to the work of St. Francis.