Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Message From The Cross Of San Damiano

Cross of San Damiano over the sanctuary in the Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe, NM.

Lots of stuff going on which has interrupted my ability to consistently maintain this blog. Hopefully, I'll be able to get more consistent after I get moved to New Mexico. My apologies for the lack of posts. Sometimes the best intentions get side tracked by events one doesn't expect and can't plan for.

I came across some information today which is related to the cross depicted with this post. This is the cross of San Damiano. For the last six or seven years I have worn this cross around my neck having no clue as to it's history and no real motivation to research it. For some reason I just liked this cross. It sort of spoke to me on some level, and even though it was sort of a large and heavy cross, I never participated in any spiritual ceremony without wearing it.

I first noticed this special connection here in Helena where I bought my original version. While in New Mexico I found a larger wall version in the Sanctuary at Chimayo, which I promptly bought and put on the kitchen wall in my New Mexico home. A couple of days later while touring the Basilica of St Francis in Santa Fe, I couldn't help but notice it was prominently displayed in the Cathedral above the Sanctuary. Now my curiosity was getting peaked. Finally today I looked up this history of this cross. Nothing that happens to me along these lines is truly coincidental. There's always a message.

It is the cross from which Jesus spoke to St Francis and gave St. Francis his mission. The recorded words of this mission were: "Go and save my church, which as you see is falling completely in ruin." Francis originally took this message quite literally and rebuilt the Church of San Damiano--which was literally in ruins. Later he began to see that Jesus might have had a little larger meaning concerning what exactly was in ruins and so Francis went on to attempt to fix that ruin by building the Franciscans, and with his friend Clare, the Poor Clares for women. They were two religious groups dedicated to radical charity, poverty, and humility. Three virtues which were sadly lacking in the greater institutional church.

Interestingly, it was St. Clare who saved the original crucifix from the church of San Damiano and that original resides in the Chapel of San Giorgio in the Basilica of St Clare of Assisi, in Italy. It is felt by scholars that the original was painted in the late 1100's and was in poor shape by the time St. Francis had his mystical encounter with it. It was restored and put on display in the Chapel of St. Giorgio in 1957. For the entire history and symbolism of the Cross of San Damiano try this link . It's worth reading.

I've found on the spiritual path that sometimes you just get attracted to certain things and don't actually think much about the whys of the attraction. I've also found out that sometimes this happens because you may not be quite ready for any of the whys and it's best just to enjoy the attraction. Kind of like St Francis got attracted to rebuilding San Damiano before he finally realized it was a much much bigger mission, this rebuilding of a church in ruins.

I think some of us are being recalled to the same seemingly endless mission--rebuilding a church in ruins. Sometimes institutions or cultures are brought back to same energy because the same mistakes have been repeated. Changing the outcome necessitates a radical approach to the situation. St Francis' approach was a very radical witness. No less is called for now.
This time the call is not just towards charity, but towards justice and charity. Justice is the harder part and that will take a radical reformation of the very heart of the Church, because it's this lack of any sense of real justice with in the Institution which has brought Catholicism to it's current state.
The Church can no longer insist on obedience to cover it's internal lack of justice. The multiple abuse crisis's have shown just how lacking the sense of justice is in the clerical institution. As has the replacement of pastoral bishops with conservative obedience oriented bishops and the extension of this trend with the investigation of the LCWR. Lack of justice towards it's own people of God can not be covered over with strident cries for obedience. That can't continue.
The message of the Cross of San Damiano still resonates with clarity, even after all this time.


  1. I can really relate to this Colleen.

    "I've found on the spiritual path that sometimes you just get attracted to certain things and don't actually think much about the whys of the attraction."

    This happens to me often. They are signposts to follow. Jesus says, "Follow me" and I believe that when living in the spirit one follows in spirit as well. "Seek and ye shall find." .... and St. Francis surely did.

    I also have this cross, Colleen, and knew not the details of connection to St. Francis and St. Clare's mission in the Church. That Christ spoke from this cross is very significant with all its symbolism and truth attached to it with our Lord of love and life, and as well St. Francis' story of following the spirit and getting the message, finally, after some twists and turns.

    Thank you again for a beautiful and inspiring post.

  2. Off Topic (sorry):

    ...but I did a double take when I saw this. Let's hope the sun is setting over Fr. Z and his ilk. He posted and cheered on a piece written by another priest who employs a curious metaphor for 'forcefully or reluctantly' accepted. Does this strike anyone else as unbelievably misogynist? I admit, I may be totally wrong.

  3. Orlando, I found the link kind of fascinating. It's been a while since I've read Fr. Z's blog.

    The article did make a valid point in that both the far left and far right have the same issues of authority with the same popes--more or less.

    I don't know if I find the language mysoginist but the article did use a somewhat male kind of language, which I don't necessarily find the same as mysoginist.

  4. Have you seen the Brians Dream site? He looks for missing children and has Cayce type dreams. One of his dream sketches says that 'Damanio has similar dreams and can help save millions'. Your site is the closest fit I can find.
    Let me know if you want any more info.