Even though the Feast of Francis doesn’t come until October, August is a month to celebrate our Franciscan Heritage. We write today (August 2) on the Franciscan Feast of Portiuncula which recalls a small chapel in Assisi, a foundational home for the Franciscan family – the Portiúncula. In another little Church, San Damiano, Francis heard the words “Rebuild my Church” and taking it literally he began to rebuild run down churches. One of them was an abandoned chapel in the valley outside Assisi which was called the Portiuncula or “little Portion” referring to the small plot of land associated with the chapel. In 1209, after Francis received permission to form a “religious order,” Francis and the first brothers took up residence at the Portiuncula. The chapel has been repaired and enhanced over the years. Now it is housed within the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. When you visit, there are two aspects of the Franciscan legacy that are always stressed: the beginning of the Franciscans and the end of St. Francis’ earthly life. In the beginning the Portiuncula was the place from which the friars were sent on mission to the world and to which they returned for their chapters. It was also to the Portiuncula that Francis asked to be taken when he knew that his death was imminent. The formal name of the chapel was “Our Lady Queen of the Angels.” As you might know our motherhouse and motherhouse chapel is named Our Lady of Angels so this feast is quite special to us.
On August 11 we also celebrate the feast of Clare of Assisi. Everyone knows Francis of Assisi but Clare is equally as significant to Franciscans throughout the world. Clare and the holy women who followed her—and who continue to follow her in our day—have always been a revered part of the Franciscan family. They serve as vibrant models of contemplative prayer that all Franciscans seek. In the past 10 years we have learned so much about her and have been intrigued by her wisdom and spirituality. Clare tells us to seek only the living God—the God of beauty, the God of far-flung galaxies and vast oceans, the God of all nations and peoples of all centuries. When we do this our prayer becomes a “gifted moment” one in which we feel ONE with God. To experience this living God she tells us to “place your mind before the mirror of eternity. Place your soul in the brilliance of glory. Place your heart in the figure of the divine. And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead itself through contemplation.” (Letter to Agnes of Prague) Her hope is that we so contemplate the Christ and become more and more like him, mirroring him to the world. Most of us made our vows on the feast of St. Clare.
And so, dear friends of the Franciscan Spiritual Center, we hold you in our hearts and our prayers this month and especially on these special days because just as we shared our Franciscan heart with you, you have shared yours with us. We continue to thank God for you and we share with you the blessing of Clare of Assisi:
What you hold, may you always hold.
What you do, may you do and never abandon.
But with swift pace, light step, unswerving feet,
so that even your steps stir no dust, go forward
securely, joyfully, and swiftly, on the path of prudent happiness,
believing nothing, agreeing with nothing
which would dissuade you from this resolution
or which would place a stumbling block for you on the way,
so that you may offer your vows to the Most High
in the pursuit of that perfection
to which the Spirit of the Lord has called you.
Blessings from the staff of the Franciscan Spiritual Center