Reflection for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

October 4, 2021
by Michael Tan

St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology, has always held a special place in my heart and spiritual journey. The affinity began from my formative years as a Catholic, having been baptised, catechised and confirmed at the Church of St Francis of Assisi, my humble parish kampung church on the western end of the island.

Being a strong advocate for ecological protection, it draws me more to this saint which spurred me to make a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, during my first Europe trip after my graduation in 2009. Following that trip, I had the chance to participate in the Taize Pilgrimmage of Trust held in Manila in 2010. Taize, is place in France, a community, a form of prayer/worship and its prayer icon is none other than the San Damiano Cross. Fast forward to this day, the affinity continues as the Catholic Architectural Guild (CAG) whom I am part of, commemorate the feast of our patron saint by me sharing this humble post.

Most of us have been grounded for almost 2 years since the onset of the pandemic. So perhaps I’ll take this chance to share my little day trip pilgrimage to Assisi in 2009 through a series of visuals and short spiritual and architectural anecdotes. This has indeed provided me with a beautiful reminiscence and encounter from this spiritual bank.

From the map of Assisi, one can figure that this town is built along the lower ridge of Mt Subasio, an imposing mountain to the east. The stones from this mountain pretty much provided the materials for the construction of this town and its churches. This is indeed a practical and most sustainable way of building by sourcing local materials. Having a second look at the map and layout of Assisi, it now makes sense why the pilgrims should start with paying homage to St Francis at the Basilica first before making the other stops in Assisi. The basilica itself was a very powerful experience. Having photography banned within the basilica, it forces one to use all our senses to experience the space, the Giotto frescoes, and most essentially, the journey down to the crypt where the remains of St Francis lies. The “air” at the crypt was quite intense. Standing and praying behind the bronze grilles, I could sense a strong spiritual aura which felt heavy (seemingly akin to the sufferings of St Francis) but yet light on the inside (deliverance & peace).

As I continue to wander the streets of Assisi, I could not help but wonder if this town has been frozen in history. Despite having souvenirs shops, hotels and cafes popping up across the town, the idyllic setting and ambience of streets are still quite captivating. As you walk along the undulating streets, breathe in the crisp pine Umbrian air and occasional look-outs to the Umbrian landscape, you can almost picture what St Francis experienced centuries ago. I look forward to the day where I can revisit Assisi again and stay there for at least a week or longer.

However, the pinnacle of the whole Assisi experience was not the trip itself but after I read the book titled “Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life.” which I picked up when I was at my first personal silent retreat in 2012 at Seven Fountains, Chiang Mai. It helps me connect to the saint at a deeper level and fall in love with the magical and spiritual Assisi all over again. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who has or has not visited Assisi. It is a biography of the saint’s life, with Assisi as the context and backdrop. Recall the days when we picked up a book to read the scenes that we pictured in our mind could be more spectacular than the physical scenes themselves.

Finally, let’s spare a moment to pray the ever powerful Prayer of St Francis, which is very much needed in the world today,

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.