Many years ago now, during my first visit to Assisi, I found by chance a book written by Italian poet and artist Umberto Verdirosi entitled “Behind the Canvas”.
On one page, entitled “Il povero cristo” in Italian and “The encounter” in English, is a painting of a vagabond wearing a red scarf standing before the Crucified Jesus who wears asimilar red scarf around his own waist. The accompanying poem, which begins with “Non parlare, guarda!”, reads in English:
“Speak not, behold! Illuminated by Light Divine, in twain they are today. As if to say that Christ’s cross is known as Man. After his long trek the Eternal Child is destitute of all except a scarf he kept in token of his faith.”
Francis of Assisi was a simple person who understood things as he saw and experienced them. Initially, he saw the Passion of Jesus as mere human suffering and pain, and hence he thought that his body needed to be constantly tamed and purged. But as he grew in the Spirit, Francis began to see and experience Jesus’ Passion (and the Cross) in a different light. He began seeking to imitate Jesus’ Passion in the light of God’s love, and found this when he received the stigmata at La Verna. For Francis, this was the lesson of the Cross and the Passion of Jesus.
As I step into the liturgical season of Lent and into Easter, I cannot help but ask myself what do I “Non parlare, guarda! – Speak not, behold!” of Jesus’ Passion and of my own passion?
It is easy to speak of Jesus’ Passion and my passion from the perspective of pain and suffering. Yet when I behold the Crucified Jesus, I see God as one who does not just love, but who also carries and embraces my passion. It is this love that brings forth hope to Easter and everyday life. Thus, I am able to see and experience my passion as moments of joy, peace and goodness.
On another page of Verdirosi’s book is a painting of Francis before the Crucified Jesus. The accompanying poem begins with “C’era una volta un uomo innamorata dell’amore”, in English “Once upon a time there was a man who fell in love with love itself”.
“Fell in love with love itself” is what Lent to Easter is. What conversion is. What the Passion and Cross of Jesus are. And what and who St Francis of Assisi and being a Franciscan are.
In the following of Francis’ spirituality, the challenge that is always before me and you is to discern what it means to embrace Jesus, his Passion and Cross. This will not be easy but we can do it if we are optimistic and hopeful.
Friar Michael Goh, OFM