I am home from Italy, nearly recovered from jet lag, and still floating in a bubble of knowing that I encountered God in so many ways during the time that I was there. I recovered parts of myself that I thought were lost forever. I could be open, honest, creative, spiritual, vulnerable. I laughed–and wept–openly in response to God’s loving touch. I let go of all expectations and lived completely in each moment.
There was all the time in the world for the sacraments–praying the Eucharist every day, renewing my baptismal promises at the font where Francis and Clare had been baptized, calling on Clare’s intercession for healing at San Damiano, spending time in the Blessed Sacrament chapel at St. Peter’s, celebrating reconciliation in the courtyard of our hotel in Rome and so many other opportunities for prayer and reflection.
The closer we were to the original experiences of Francis and Clare, the more moved I was. To touch the walls of the Porziuncula, where Francis first heard the call to gospel poverty, or La Maddalena and San Rufino D’Arce, where he ministered to the lepers, moved me to tears. The majestic basilicas in Assisi and Rome witness to centuries of faith. But the intimacy and solidity of the tiny stone churches reminded me that the church can and must be rebuilt in every age, living stone upon living stone. This is what Francis understood. This is the message he lived. This is the charism he passed on to his followers.
Climbing the heights of Mt. La Verna, where Francis received the stigmata, infused every fiber of my being with an understanding of God and nature, of the union of spirit and body, of the joy of both solitude and companions on the way. The light breeze brought home to me Elijah’s “still, small voice like nothing else ever had. The glorious colors of the dying leaves were a reminder that life and death are part of God’s plan. I left my traveling bag with friends at the bottom of the trail and left heavier inner burdens along the way. Fr. Michael took one look at me when I rejoined the group and he knew that I had encountered God!
Assisi is truly holy ground. Yet even as spectacular as the outer experience was, the inner pilgrimage is what I most cherish. No pictures can capture it, words ultimately fail, the senses can only begin to grasp its significance. But I know in the depths of my soul that I have been changed utterly by the experience, transformed by the journey of a lifetime.