Since then I have always looked back with such fond memories of those seven peaceful days in Assisi. It was the first time I experienced liturgy in another culture/language; sure I don't speak any Italian but the signs and symbols of my faith go past any language differences and it was awesome to experience that. I remember going to the chapel where the original San Damiano crucifix still hangs; where St. Francis heard Jesus speak to him, "Francis, Go rebuild my Church!". As I left the chapel on a cold December night I could hear in the darkness the friars chanting their evening Vespers...so peaceful. so beautiful. I loved hearing the tolling bells every night from St. Clare's basilica calling the cloistered nuns to prayer.
It was in Assisi I started to learn what it meant to be quiet and still with God; that God speaks with a still, small voice to the depths of our heart. I started to realize what it means to live a life completely for Jesus Christ...not in some mean, Bible-thumping way but in a loving, radical way, similar to the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
While I was in Assisi I remember seeing an image of Jesus crucified with St. Francis; but it was one I had never seen before back at home. Until a few weeks ago, I have truly never thought about that image since my time in Assisi almost seven years ago.
I decided to not ignore this, and go with it...okay Holy Spirit, where is this ride taking me? I started thinking and asking God why out of nowhere would this image just pop into my mind.
It is truly a unique image. Not because it is of Jesus crucified but because Jesus is literally coming off the cross to embrace Francis. The more I sat with this, the more I sensed God's timing in revealing this to my heart. This embrace of Jesus and Francis illustrated two important lessons in relation to suffering for me personally.
First, Jesus is inviting Francis into His Passion and death. For Francis this was a very real thing, to the point he bore the wounds of Christ on his actual body (the Stigmata). Jesus suffered so much in suffering and death, but in our own sufferings and trials in life; perhaps just maybe it is a way to us to experience just a sliver of what He endured. The way Jesus reaches down to embrace Francis is an intimate way for Jesus to allow Francis to experience what Jesus endured.
And second, this embrace is also an action of crazy, passionate, reckless love. This image strongly conveys a sense of love: how much Francis loves Christ, but also, how MUCH Christ loves Francis in a personal way. I began to imagine myself in place of Francis; that in a way Jesus is drawing me into His Passion through a variety of ways in my own life. Even in suffering, there is great love. Somehow even in great trials and suffering, God is there and present with us. I know it sounds crazzyy but even during dark times in my own life I know that even in the pits I am never alone. And even though it doesn't take away the pain, somehow to know my God gets/understands my suffering makes it just a smidge easier to bear.
God doesn't allow suffering because He is mean or vindictive. It was never part of the original plan to begin with. Suffering exists because sin exists. The only place where suffering and sin are extinct is Heaven. Even though I'm almost done with grad school, no master's degree is ever going to make sense of 'the suffering question'.
I find a lot of comfort and peace in looking at this image. It in no way is an answer to the suffering question in the world or our personal lives; however, it makes me feel less alone.less scared.gives me hope. But ultimately, no matter how awful,dark my Good Friday is there will always, always be an Easter Sunday to come.