Located on a hillside in Assisi, Italy, stands the magnificent Basilica of St. Francis, which are actually two basilicas: an upper and a lower one. Both are filled with amazing art and frescos. During my recent visit to Italy, I was blessed to spend 12 days in Assisi. I spent a lot of time in the basilica. One day while in the lower basilica, I discovered a fresco that depicted the Madonna and the Child Jesus with St. Francis pictured on the left side of Mary and another figure on the right that I learned was St. John the Apostle.
Since I am pastor of St. John the Apostle Parish in Minot, N.D., I immediately wondered what connection could be made between St. Francis and St. John, besides their affection and devotion to Christ and His mother, Mary. There had to be a reason for the artist to put these figures together. They wouldn’t have known each other personally since their lives were separated by over a thousand years. However, spiritually, they most certainly knew each other because of their decision to be disciples of the Lord.
From Mary’s “yes,” to John’s love and message of the Scriptures, to Francis’ love of the poor, the Church and desire to serve God, there was a woven relationship between these beautiful characters of our tradition. They inspire us, if we are willing to look to them as examples of living the stewardship way of life.
During the stay in Assisi, hours were spent praying and reflecting upon the lives before me that were painted on that 12th-century wall in one of the great basilicas of the world. My imagination took over, and in my mind and heart, I thought of the “other faces” not pictured there but vividly pictured in my mind. They were the faces of those belonging to our parish family. They belonged there with the others because of the inspiration gained from listening and praying the gospels, especially the Gospel of St. John, and from knowing the witness of a young man named Francis who, through his own conversion, lived his faith in a very radical way, spending most of his life striving for holiness by making decisions about what he could do to offer his time, talent and treasure. Five years ago, that was an accurate description of our parish. I hope all of us here at St. John’s could say it still is today.
My parish’s namesake should remind us to be the “beloved” disciples Jesus has called us to be. Our stewardship bonds us in a “friendship” with so many others. That is what happens when we embrace the stewardship way of life. We have a statue of St. Francis of Assisi in the north foyer of our building, and it should remind those of us who see it regularly that the conversion of our spiritual lives is still evolving and developing, in the hopes that we can live a radical life of discipleship for the Lord just as Francis did many years ago.
Celebrating the Seasons of Advent and Christmas, our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary should be always on our mind. At this time of year, Mary’s story, her humility, her obedience, her faith, and her discipleship reminds us to appreciate the seasons of God’s grace.
For centuries, the images in the fresco decorated the Lower Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Today, may it guide all of us in the coming year to live like the saints so dear to us. During this approaching Christmas Season, may each of us and our families be inspired by St. John’s words, “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world (Jn 1: 9).” This Christmas, let us celebrate again “that light” that has come into the world. It shines through us as we continue to embrace the stewardship way of life; as we share a spiritual friendship with saints of the past and our parish family around us now.