Tale of Two Cities: Assisi and New York

By the time this is published, I will likely be on a train heading to Manhattan from Albany, NY. I’m heading to New York City to give the Thomas Merton Lecture at Corpus Christi Church on the Upper West Side near Columbia University on the intersection of St. Francis of Assisi’s influence on Merton’s life, thought and work. It is in part because of this purpose in travel, in addition to the fact that I’m a Franciscan friar, that I was particularly struck by the Archbishop of New York’s weekly column in the newspaper The Catholic New York published yesterday and titled, “What St. Francis Heard in Assisi.

Like most Franciscans, I am always on the alert for references to the saint that founded my Religious Order and his spiritual legacy. So it was nice to see Francis share the Archbishop’s spotlight and on the weekend I head to the Archbishop’s diocese no less.

Dolan is in the hometown of the world’s favorite saint with a number of other priests and bishops for a retreat. He writes:

Assisi is one of my favorite places in the world, and this stay is even more uplifting since I am in the company of 50 of our wonderful priests from the archdiocese, here on a retreat-pilgrimage.

This has to be about my 20th visit here, and each time I wonder again why this little man had such a profound impact on civilization. The first time I came, in October 1972, as a new seminarian at the North American College, I read Chesterton’s classic biography of Francis, and nodded in agreement with his remark that the saint “lit a spark that became a bonfire.”

He goes on to highlight three reasons that he feels so connected to St. Francis and attracted to the Poverello‘s story of Gospel living and conversion.

The Archbishop concludes his column with a reflection on the significance St. Francis’s life and example had in reforming the Church and how that invitation to renewal continues today.

The Church has never again been the same. And the prescription for renewal was clear: raw, Gospel values, of simplicity of life, conversion of heart and penance for sin, love others—especially the poor—as Jesus did, and a reliance on prayer.

Jesus is always calling new “Franciscans” to “rebuild His Church.” Not to mock, leave, abandon, or ignore the Church, but to love her and help renew her. And not some “ideal” Church of our own making, but the one Christ gave us, because it is His Church not mine.

That invitation is so dramatic here in Assisi. That’s why we priests and bishops are here.

My prayer today is for Archbishop Dolan and all those baptized into the Church, which is the Body of Christ, that, like St. Francis, we may all be instruments of God’s desire to renew the Church and rebuild it according to the Gospel.

One Response to “Tale of Two Cities: Assisi and New York”

  1. Ken Lovasik Says:

    Beautiful reflection, Dan. As I read Archbishop touching words about Francis and his mention of reading Chesterton’s book about Francis, I was reminded of Chesterton’s description in that book of Francis’ death as “the stopping of that great heart which did not stop beating until it held the whole world.” In the same book, he described Francis as ” taking the zig-zagiest paths through the woods, but he was always going home”. He undedrstood the Poverello well!

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