Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spiritual Restoration: Christ Calls Francis of Assisi at San Damiano

One indicator that a person has truly been converted is that he or she simply wants to spend time with God. So it was with Francis after his conversion. He invested hours in prayer and solitude, especially at the small church of San Damiano, which was somewhat of a wayside chapel about a kilometer below the city of Assisi. Although the building was in disrepair, it had a beautiful cross hanging in the front. There Francis found a wonderful place to be alone with his Lord.

One day while in prayer Francis heard Christ speak to him: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.”* Taking Jesus’ instruction literally, Francis began to renovate the church building of San Damiano. (In the next blog, more will be said of this project, the resistance Francis received, and what he learned from it all.)

While Francis began with the physical recon- struction of a church building, he soon began to realize that God had much more in mind. The Lord wanted Francis to bring restoration to the Church as a whole. Through his ministry Francis helped restore the entirety of the Church in Western Europe. Christendom was in need of renewal. Problems abounded in the Middle Ages—much of the church hierarchy was focused on power and money, many priests were living in immorality, people of Europe had no access to the Gospel in their native languages, and Jesus seemed distant and unapproachable.

Francis and the brothers who joined him took the spiritual renewal begun a century before by Bernard of Clairvaux and others (see blog on Bernard), and he brought it to the common people on a grand scale. Instead of wealth and power that the bishops enjoyed, Francis chose simplicity, poverty and compassion for people in need. Rather than living in immorality, the Franciscans became known as godly men who were genuinely called preach the Gospel. Instead of Latin, Francis and the other friars preached in the local dialect and helped to get portions of Scripture translated into the common language, so people had access to God’s Word.

Finally, Francis helped to make Jesus accessible to common people. His humility helped them see Christ’s humility and his humanity. His emphasis on the flesh-and-blood Jesus who walked the earth enabled the average person to identify with the Savior. In fact, Francis is the first one to assemble a manger scene at Christmas time, allowing us all to have a visual picture of what Jesus’ birth, his manger and his unassuming beginnings must have been like.

Thus God used Francis to help rebuild his Church in a dramatic way. The young man from Assisi began with simple steps of refurbishing the physical church building at San Damiano—later to become the convent where Clare and other women formed the first group of Franciscans sisters, the Poor Clares. In time, however, the Lord multiplied Francis’ ministry to help restore spiritual life to tens—and perhaps hundreds—of thousands of people across Europe, bringing substantive spiritual restoration to the Church as a whole.

Reflection on Restoration

In some of the same ways, the Church today is in need of reformation in our day. Just like the medieval hierarchy, many church leaders today are caught up with power, numbers and money. Under the label of “leadership” and “church growth,” focus is often placed on furthering our own little institutions while individual people are neglected.

The whole movement of “Christian Spirituality” and “Spiritual Formation” today is a response to the misdirection in much of the institutional church. In short, it is a renewal movement. It is focused on the restoration of broken lives and hopefully a revitalization of the Church as a whole.

Another question we were asked on our pilgrimage is: Have you ever been called to restore something? If you are reading this blogsite on deep wells and spiritual formation, most likely you have been called to spiritual renewal in your own life and perhaps the lives of others. What is the Lord’s commission on your life? What facet of restoration are you called to?

The Lord may have spoken to you in a dramatic way, as he did to Francis, or he may have placed a burden on your heart that simply will not go away. However God has chosen to get your attention, what will be your response? What aspect of restoration catches your imagination? How are you engaged in such renewal? If you have not yet begun, what are some practical steps you can take this week?

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

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