Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. This statue is in San Francisco, a much smaller version of the one I first came to know at Fisherman's Wharf. I love the silhouette of the statue. In the many versions that Beniamino Bufano crafted, this Tau shape is consistent.
Here's a version that is at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and another, with mosaics, that is at the Mondavi Vineyards. The Tau, a form of the cross that Francis wore, some say was in opposition to the Crusader's cross.
There is one other statue of Francis that I found behind a small hotel near the Presidio in San Francisco. You'd recognize the statue as a Bufano creation instantly, but Francis has his hands behind his back as he contemplates the life before and around him. I've never found it on the Web, and I wonder if that small place that had so many Bufano statues still exists.
I was introduced to Francis, Clare, and Assisi by Jesuit Fr. John Crocker who took a group of students from Rome to Assisi for a weekend in October. The train was packed. We had to stand most of the three-hour trip. Being in the town, going beyond the pilgrim/tourist track, we found a Roman ampitheatre up above the city, checked out the Roman forum underneath the church and plaza of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (St. Mary over Minerva--guess who won that battle!), and prayed in the cool afternoon at San Damiano. It was at San Damiano that Francis first heard God saying, "Go, rebuild my church, which is falling into ruins."
Francis was a literalist in those days, much like young 20-somethings the world over. He picked up bricks and started building, only later to discover that God was asking something more.
In Assisi, I discovered that saints were real people, and that real people were called to be saints. And I wasn't afraid to embark on the adventure. If I didn't get it right, surely God would bend the path as he had Francesco's.
Working with inmates, I sometimes talk about Francis, the spontaneous, good party-thrower, the friend who was good for a few bucks. He went off and did wild things, right up to the end of his life. When the Crusades were all the rage, not just for religious reasons, but for business as well, he set off, and then turned back, vowing to serve God, not politics. He was good for dramatic gestures and outrageous plans, and God used all that. He wrote poetry and loved his community. He knew at his core that he was part of all creation. There's a lesson to be learned there.
I can't keep copies of the Prayer of St. Francis in my office. That's a good thing. I don't bother saying, "You know he didn't write it." I just include his "Canticle of the Creatures" on the back side so there are two ways to pray with Francis.
This painting of Francis is by Cimabue, in the lower basilica. It is at eye-level, standing just apart from Mary on a throne with a couple of angels. It may be quite close to what Francis looked like, but more important is what the artist captured: how much like Christ Francis became.
And so should we all.