This is another ramble, I guess. But I also guess that I won't apologize. I'm reminded of one of my favorite things anybody has ever said to me about preaching: after lamenting to an older priest that I thought I had rambled a little in my Sunday homily, he said, "Sometimes you're the arrow, sometimes the shotgun."
Living in Assisi is a funny business. I think it's doing things to me. Like the light and space of Vietnam did to Mr. Clean, I think it's putting the zap on my head.
Everywhere you go it's St. Francis. Franciscan friars, Franciscan sisters. Pace e bene. The Tau cross. "Welcome to Assisi, City of Peace," you see as you spend your euro to take the bus up to Piazza Matteoti, noticing once again that you could have gotten away with not validating your ticket. I guess it all strikes me because Francis's own relationship to the place was so much more ambivalent. I think of his participation in the civil disturbances to his youth, and especially of his leaving town to show mercy to the lepers, thereby making himself unfit for respectable, public life.
Reflections along these lines arrive in my Franciscan heart especially when I find myself around Santa Maria degli Angeli, where I have often been in my free time, praying, going to confession, or just enjoying a flat place to walk and think. I pray by the Portiuncula and try to think of it as it might have been at the time of Francis and the first companions. Out in the tranquility and danger of the woods, just the homely little chapel and maybe some huts for the brothers. Just a place, as they would have said, not a convento or a friary or a studium, curia, collegio, or anything, really. No big beautiful church, no amazing bookstore where you can buy a tau cross or someone's acts of canonization or latest volume of the critical edition of Scotus, no sellers of religious articles and internet meme t-shirts, no pizza, no nice lady reigning as queen of the habit rosary and breviary cover racket. Just the insecurity and openness of not-city.
I guess Santa Maria degli Angeli is just one of those places for me, a place where the boundaries are thin. Maybe it's also because it's the starting point of my favorite travel story, which I have told many, many times over the years. Praying there these days I also keep thinking, for some reason, of Simone Weil and her experiences there. There was a spell when I was a novice when I became quite enamored of her and her writing, but I haven't thought much about her since. Maybe it means something, maybe not.
Is it gauche or bad form to make a second oblique movie reference to the same movie? I guess I don't care.
Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were going all the way. Francis got off the boat. He split from the whole program. Francis got out of town because it was there, with the lepers, that he found the sweetness of beginning to do penance. He went to meet Jesus where he was to be found, outside the camp, and bore his reproach.
We all know the irony of the mendicants then becoming the experts in preaching and pastoral care in the new complexity of urban life. And in some ways all the truths and myths of that still obtain. But I think for me it's still Francis's departure, his leaving the city, his getting off the boat, that draws me to him, that draws me to want to follow Christ in his footprint and his poverty, according to the pattern of St. Francis of Assisi.