From The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi by Paul Sabbatier, published 1919.
Among the numerous chapels in the suburbs of Assisi there was one which Francis particularly loved, that of St. Damian. It was reached by a few minutes’ walk over a stony path, almost trackless, under olive trees, amid odors of lavender and rosemary. Standing on the top of a hillock, the entire plain is visible from it, through a curtain of cypresses and pines which seem to be trying to hide the humble hermitage and set up an ideal barrier between it and the world.
Served by a poor priest who had scarcely the wherewithal for necessary food, the sanctuary was falling into ruin. There was nothing in the interior but a simple altar of masonry, and by way of reredos one of those byzantine crucifixes still so numerous in Italy, where through the work of the artists of the time has come down to us something of the terrors which agitated the twelfth century. In general the Crucified One, frightfully lacerated, with bleeding wounds, appears to seek to inspire only grief and compunction; that of St. Damian, on the contrary, has an expression of inexpressible calm and gentleness; instead of closing the eyelids in eternal surrender to the weight of suffering, it looks down in self-forgetfulness, and its pure, clear gaze says, not “I suffer,” but, “Come unto me.”
One day Francis was praying before the poor altar: “Great and glorious God, and thou, Lord Jesus, I pray ye, shed abroad your light in the darkness of my mind…. Be found of me, Lord, so that in all things I may act only in accordance with thy holy will.”
Thus he prayed in his heart, and behold, little by little it seemed to him that his gaze could not detach itself from that
of Jesus; he felt something marvellous taking place in and around him. The sacred victim took on life, and in the outward silence he was aware of a voice which softly stole into the very depths of his heart, speaking to him an ineffable language. Jesus accepted his oblation. Jesus desired his labor, his life, all his being, and the heart of the poor solitary was already bathed in light and strength.
This vision marks the final triumph of Francis. His union with Christ is consummated; from this time he can exclaim with the mystics of every age, “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”
But instead of giving himself up to transports of contemplation he at once asks himself how he may repay to Jesus love for love, in what action he shall employ this life which he has just offered to him. He had not long to seek. We have seen that the chapel where his spiritual espousals had just been celebrated was threatened with ruin. He believed that to repair it was the work assigned to him.
From that day the remembrance of the Crucified One, the thought of the love which had triumphed in immolating itself, became the very centre of his religious life and as it were the soul of his soul. For the first time, no doubt, Francis had been brought into direct, personal, intimate contact with Jesus Christ; from belief he had passed to faith, to that living faith which a distinguished thinker has so well defined: “To believe is to look; it is a serious, attentive, and prolonged look; a look more simple than that of observation, a look which looks, and nothing more; artless, infantine, it has all the soul in it, it is a look of the soul and not the mind, a look which does not seek to analyze its object, but which receives it as a whole into the soul through the eyes.”
Lord God, You made Saint Francis of Assisi Christ-like in his poverty and humility.
Help us so to walk in his ways that, with joy and love,
we may follow Christ Your Son, and be united to You.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ.