The story is told that one day St. Francis of Assisi was walking in the wilderness and came upon the abandoned church of San Damiano, which fallen into ruin. On impulse, he went into the church and knelt to pray before an image of the crucifix.
While thus in prayer, he heard a voice speak to him from the cross. Three times it said, “Francis, go and repair my church, which, as you see, is all in ruins.” Astonished, Francis did as the voice requested. He undertook a mission to physically rebuild the Church of San Damiano. Over time, however, he came to understand that he was called to build up the Church Universal. This was the seed that gave birth to the founding of the Order of Franciscans. Francis spent the rest of his life devoted to leading Christians in returning to God and in obedience to the church.
That cross, the one from which St. Francis heard God speaking in the year 1205, today hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi. Its likeness still inspires people around the world.
I think images of the cross also continue to speak to us today. We just have to be in the right frame of mind to hear what they have to say.
Have you noticed how the number of crosses in our refurbished narthex has multiplied lately? We began with just a couple, including one that had hung on our narthex wall for many years, and one that hung in the Parish Hall at St. Martha’s in Westminster until that church closed last year. We hoped that seeing the St. Martha’s cross here at St. James would “speak” to any St. Marthans who visited, helping them to feel welcomed and at home.
We found a few other small crosses tucked away in various places around the parish, and we put those on the narthex wall as well. Rose Applegate donated a cross for the wall. A few weeks ago, Susan Clemons returned from a trip to Wisconsin with another cross for the wall. We invited all parishioners to think about donating or loaning a cross for our display. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Judie Koehler, a friend of Saint James, donated her collection of crosses.
Now we have two dozen, in all sizes and shapes. Some are crucifixes. Some are Celtic crosses. Some are ceramic, some metal, some wood. Some are ornate, others are quite simple.
Let me invite you to spend some time with these crosses. Start at one end of the narthex and slowly work your way down the wall, pausing to look at and absorb each cross. See if there is one that speaks to you, one that resonates most deeply with you. Notice its features and burn them into your mind. Then pray with that image. Listen for what God might be telling you as you pray with the cross.
It’s not only saints that God speaks to. God has a message of love for each one of us, and has tasks for each of us, if we will just open ourselves and listen.
Most High and Glorious God, bring light to the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, insight, and wisdom, so I can always observe your holy and true command. Amen. – The Prayer of Saint Francis before the Cross of San Damiano